Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Other Side of Midnight

With contact centers leading the way, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry continues to fulfill its potential as one of this country’s major growth and employment engines in the globalized marketplace.

Complementing contact centers are lesser known but potentially powerful BPO engines that are creating employment, and are driving investments, growth and career building. These engines are taking Starship Philippines on a new course to “The Other Side of Midnight” where revenues are made by the light of day.

The Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPA/P), the industry’s major association, expects BPO industry revenues to almost triple to $12.1 billion by 2010 from the 2006 level of $3.45 billion. In 2006, call centers continued to contribute most of BPO revenues from foreign clients, some 77%.

BPA/P estimates call center revenues at $5.29 billion in 2010, up a huge 97% over three years, but, more significantly, less than 45% of total BPO industry revenues.

The other 55% will be contributed by the other sectors or engines of BPO: Business Processing (Back Office Operations); Medical & Legal Transcription; Software Development and Maintenance; Animation Industry and Engineering Design

Best of all for job seekers is that these sectors—also collectively called “non-voice”—offer wider employment for Filipinos (including middle aged professionals) and that the working hours take place in daylight. For BPO firms, many of which operate contact centers, the rise of daytime BPO maximizes their investments in IT and physical infrastructure.

“The Other Side of Midnight” is on the rise.

BPA/P estimates the industry should grow by some 48% in 2007 to reach revenues of $4.9 billion. By 2010, BPA/P believes outsourcing could be a $12 billion industry employing 900,000 persons.

Consulting firm A.T. Kearney, in a recent ranking of the most desirable global services locations that are competitive for BPO, rated the Philippines fourth in the world behind India, China and Malaysia. The Philippines was outside the top 10 three years ago.

The Philippines generated offshore service revenues of $2.1 billion in 2005, placing third behind India and China and slightly ahead of Malaysia. That's up 62% over the $1.3 billion it gained in 2004, and a huge increase from the start of the decade when BPO employed just 2,400 people and the industry had revenues of merely $24 million.

A.T. Kearney said the Philippines gets high marks for its large, educated talent pool and English language skills, but falls behind some of the other locations in infrastructure.

A natural offshoot of this rapid BPO growth is the increase in the number of jobs on offer to Filipinos. The industry employs 250,000 persons (including call center agents) today. BPA/P's goal is to produce one million jobs in the BPO industry.

BPO rising
The ascendancy of BPO confirms the shift in employment and investments from the cost-effectiveness of call centers to the skills quality and competence of non-voice BPO. This development strengthens the Philippines' position as an emerging global leader in the burgeoning BPO industry.

BPO firms employ people from a wider variety of professions than do contact centers, which need to focus their talent search on Filipinos who, also, can speak with an “English neutral accent.” Non-voice BPO opens its doors to engineers, architects, designers, medical professionals, medical researchers, human resources professionals, lawyers, accountants and animators.

These professionals work in virtual teams to service client needs. And the language they use is, of course, English, the language of world business. In other words, English proficiency is required on the other side of midnight, too.

It is a reality confirmed by BPA/P, which points out that English proficiency is the key to success, as it is required by all six sectors of the industry.

BPO’s growth surge is being fueled not by low-value-added call centers but by higher-end outsourcing such as back office work, medical transcription, legal services, animation, Web design, software development and shared services.

The number of people employed in back office work is expected to jump to 299,000 by 2010 from the present 36,000, a growth rate of 730 percent. BPA/P says Business Processing or Back Office Operations and Medical Transcription are the leading areas of opportunity for employing large numbers of Filipinos.

Medical transcription is experiencing a growth rate expected to top 1,600 % from 2006 until 2010, with employment surging from 7,000 to 122,000. Employment in software development is projected to jump from 16,000 in 2006 to 75,000 in 2010.

BPA/P believes back office services, medical transcription and software development will replace call centers as the high growth BPO sectors. All these sectors will experience faster revenue and employment growth than call centers.

“More companies are coming in from India and the U.S.,” said BPAP Executive Director Mitch Locsin. “Many of these companies will start with voice and move up the value chain.”

He noted that revenues from non-voice BPO services will surpass contact center or voice revenues by 2010.

“Back office services are the next big thing in BPO,” he said. “Our job now is to get Filipino accountants, bookkeepers and engineers to focus on their studies to prepare for the future.”

He said one of Philippine BPO’s biggest challenges is beef up its manpower resources, quality certification and security compliance. Locsin revealed that all these issues are being addressed by BPAP and are in the final stages of implementation.

As for the hot jobs in BPO, Locsin said opportunities abound in Finance & Accounting (F&A) since 28% of Philippine graduates come from Business Administration and related courses.

Opportunities exist in moving up the value chain and doing more high value added services such as Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO).

Locsin said BPAP is convinced that English proficiency is the key to success in BPO, as it is required by all sectors of the industry.

“The Philippines can excel in all of the e-Services sectors because of its quality of service that we provide,” he said.

Coming to the Philippines
A few years ago, the Royal Dutch Shell Group determined the creation of a network of Shell shared services centers (SSSCs) in strategic locations across the globe would be key in its efforts to deliver services at competitive costs and standards.

SSSC Manila, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc, was established in July 2004. It was the fourth SSSC to be established and has over 1,100 employees, the largest in terms of manpower compared to other SSSCs in Glasgow, Guatemala, Kuala Lumpur and Krakow.

SSSC Manila mainly performs back office accounting and finance work exclusively for Shell clients abroad. These clients include Shell companies in the US, Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands) and Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines).

The bulk of finance work provided by SSSC Manila includes hydrocarbon accounting (reconciling fuel movements); accounts payable (or processing of vendor payments); accounts receivables (collections of receivables from both internal and external customers) and general accounting (financial reporting, fixed asset inventory, payroll accounting). Other activities being serviced include master reference data maintenance; contracting and procurement (buying activity). human resources service desk and customer services.

SSSC Manila general manager Noel Paraso said the center proves Filipinos can perform according to the same high standards expected from foreign employees. Paraso noted the continued interest in transferring more work to SSSSC Manila because trust has already been established.

“We make sure the standard of services do not suffer here,” Paraso said. “We ensure successful migration of these processes by putting in place a stringent migration methodology and hiring people with meaningful skills, background and experience; people who are accounting, business, economics, and engineering majors. We also give them very thorough, very focused training”.

OfficeTiger, a U.S. owned printing services firm working out of India, chose the Philippines to provide its legal services outsourcing. It expects to make the Philippines the main center for "pre-media" outsourcing work, including desktop publishing, composition, typesetting and graphic design.

A ranking OfficeTiger manager said design work is an area where Filipinos have and edge. The company has found an incredible depth of design talent in the Philippines, the kind of talent that is hard to come by in Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai.

OfficeTiger is looking at its Philippine operations to provide 40% to 50% of its total annual revenue growth over the next three to five years. Its clients include large insurance companies, retailers and publishers of books and directories.

The country’s dominant telecom firm, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), took a significant slice of the BPO industry in 2006 by acquiring SPI Technologies, Inc., the second largest dedicated BPO company in the Philippines and the ninth largest independent BPO service provider worldwide, through subsidiary ePLDT, Inc.

SPI operates in 23 locations in North America, Europe and Asia, servicing over 150 customers including Fortune 500 companies. With 6,500 employees worldwide, SPI services these customers onsite, and from facilities in the Philippines, India, US, China and Vietnam.

SPI’s core capabilities include content editorial and production, litigation support coding and electronic data discovery, medical transcription, database structuring and management and transaction processing.

PLDT president Napoleon Nazareno said the addition of SPI into ePLDT will broaden the group’s participation in BPO, which analysts forecast to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 9.2 % until 2010.

PLDT said SPI will give it excellent opportunities to enhance its North American customer base, broaden its revenue streams, as well as derive potential cost synergies in the marketing and selling of voice-based services in the countries where SPI operates.

ePLDT’s Ventus call-center group consists of Parlance Systems Inc., Vocativ Systems Inc. and ePLDT Ventus Inc. The ePLDT Ventus Group operates six call-center facilities located in the cities of Makati, Taguig, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Quezon and Iloilo, rendering primarily voice-based services to large US-based clients and outsourcers.

BPO firm Sykes, although better known as one of the pioneer call centers, said Filipinos are a great asset. It describes Filipinos as intelligent and hard working and fit nicely within Sykes’ culture of “People Serving People.” Sykes enjoys and are proud of its partnership with Filipinos.

Sykes came to the Philippines in 1997 with just a small number of employees providing technical support through e-mail. It now has more then 10,000 employees across six sites providing customer care through multiple communication channels including chat, e-mail and voice.

Sykes is a family of global businesses delivering BPO services. Sykes is entrusted with the customer care of global brands primarily in Consumer Products & Services, Communications, Financial Services, Technology and Travel & Leisure.

Philippine BPO offerings
Business Processing (Back Office Operations) is one of the hottest job sectors in BPO. In 2006, there were 62 Business Processing firms employing some 36,000 persons. These firms generated revenues of $288 million.

The Philippines now provides some 40 Business Processing Services. Among these services are accounting and bookkeeping; payroll processing; asset management; financial analysis and auditing; inventory control and purchasing; human resources administration; customer management; credit card administration; factoring and stock brokering; revenue management; database management; supply chain management; legal transcription; litigation support; content development; publishing; loan processing; health insurance; sales and marketing; tax reporting; transaction management; sourcing and procurement; logistics; disaster recovery; business intelligence; network management and warehouse and inventory.

Counted among the leading third party providers of Business Processing Services are Accenture, American Data Exchange, SVI Corp, SPI Technologies, DAKSH eServices, The Environments Collaborative, Eximius BPO, Summersault, Inc., Infinit-O BPO, BPO International and BayanTrade Dotcom.

“Captives” or companies with in-house services include AOL, AIG BPSI, Chevron Texaco,HP, HSBC, Procter & Gamble, Flour Daniel, Deutsche Bank, Citibank Crescent Services, Shell Shared Services, Manulife, Alitalia, Watson Wyatt, Emerson, McKinsey & Co., Safeway and Thomson.

Medical transcription (MT), which next to contact centers is the best known BPO sector, remains a prime growth sector and a source of hot jobs for Filipinos. Filipino MT firms are noted internationally for their accuracy (98-99% accuracy rate) and have a swift job turnaround time of 12 to 24 hours.

There are some 100 MT firms employing 7,000 persons. There are also 15 MT schools. MT firms posted revenues of $98 million in 2006.

Key MT firms are eData Services, SPI Technologies, SVI Corporation, Medscribe Asia,
Transkripsyo, Inc., Total Transcription Solutions, Inc., Dictation Source and Pilipinas Data Contracts Corporation.

Legal transcription (LT), although new, offers bright promise since the Philippines’ legal system is patterned after that of the United States, the source of most legal transcription jobs.

There are nine operational LT firms employing 675 lawyers and legal personnel. The sector, which generated $9 million revenues in 2006, has among its key players Quisumbing Torres, SPI Technologies, SVI Corporation, CD Asia, Inc. and Medscribe Asia.

The Philippines had 100 software development companies in 2006 that booked $272 million revenues in 2006.

Among the firms providing software development services are Accenture, Headstrong, Microsoft, IBM Solutions, Jupiter Systems, Oracle, ADTX Solutions, TrendMicro, Gurango, Sun Microsystems, Intel Microelectronics, NEC and RCG Philippines.

Filipino animation continues to be a source of strength in BPO and is the oldest BPO sector (20 years in existence). The country’s 70 animation studios employ 6,500 persons and created revenues of $97 million in 2006.

Local studios consist of Holy Cow! Animation, Artfarm Asia, Digital Exchange, Top Draw Animation, Toei Animation, Top Peg Animation and Creative Studio, Creative Asia, Geebo Digital and Toon City, among others.

The relatively new Engineering Design Industry now consists of 24 companies employing 4,400 full time engineers. These firms reported revenues of $68 million in 2006.

Among these firms are JGC Phils., Fluor Daniel, Bechtel, Tsuneishi, Kajima Corp, Parsons, C & E Corp, EEI Corp, Eichleay Pacific, Inc., Hyundai Engineering, Foster Wheeler, Kellog, Brown & Root and Bouygues Construction.

The Philippines graduates 40,000 engineers every year and there are now some 100,000 licensed engineering professionals. Filipino engineers are prized for their high level of technical expertise in engineering design and practice internationally accepted engineering standards.

Human Capacity Build-up
There is general consensus that the BPO future of the Philippines is bright—at midnight and at midday. Industry players, however, are also fully aware that the opportunities at the horizon will only become reality if government, academe and industry work together in building the human resource.

The Philippine government recognizes the strategic importance of BPO as generators of revenues and employment. President Gloria Arroyo has set aside $10 million in government money to train people for employment in the outsourcing industry. Students and other persons interested in outsourcing jobs are given vouchers that can be used for tuition at vocational schools.

But of greater importance to the industry is its five-year roadmap being drawn up in assistance with international consulting firm McKinsey.

BPA/P president Dan Reyes said the roadmap will identify niche areas in the global marketplace in which the Philippines can be competitive against India and other outsourcing destinations such as China, Malaysia and eastern European countries.

He noted that while BPO is still predominantly call center-driven, both government and the private sector recognize the need to deliver higher-value BPO services such as HR and finance and accounting.

A glimpse of the BPA/P Roadmap 2010 was recently presented by BPA/P CEO Oscar Sañez during the Call Center Conference Exposition 2007. As it is still in its second phase, Sañez said the roadmap will be officially released later this year.

Sañez said the strategy involves not just the BPA/P members but also the local communities, education institutions and local government units to ensure its success.

For the location component, BPA/P will develop a set of products that identify and evaluate areas considered as "next wave" cities where startups and expanding BPOs can build new locations.

The reporting of next wave cities will contain the number of companies already operating in specific cities, telecommunications readiness, physical landscape, available expertise and possible challenges.

For the business environment component, BPA/P intends to enhance perceptions regarding the Philippines as an ideal location for operators. To do so, BPA/P intends to conduct a risk perception survey of locators, build success case studies and launch industry-wide campaigns to address intellectual property and Internet security, among other issues.

Improving the future/lending a helping hand
The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) and its IT foundation, the European IT Service Center (EITSC), are committed to human capacity building.

EITSC is an initiative of ECCP, the German Development Cooperation (GTZ) and the Asia-Europe Foundation of the Philippines to bridge the needs of Europe with the IT/BPO capabilities in the Philippines.

EITSC is currently in a partnership with Hanns Seidel Foundation and the European Union on human capacity building. EITSC and Hanns Seidel Foundation with co-funding from the European Union initiated a five-year program that takes a progressive approach to answering the call for more qualified workers in the IT/BPO sector.

Of particular interest to ECCP and EITSC is improving the quality of the college graduates that will be needed to grow BPO.

Last year, some 80 universities and colleges began incorporating open source subjects into their computer science (CS) and information technology (IT)-related courses under an EITSC sponsored program that seeks to help schools develop more employable graduates.

“There is a growing demand for open source, and this program aims to enhance the skills of students in open source systems,” said EITSC manager Dominic Sabado. EITSC is also a partner in the Philippine Open Source Initiative (Positive) program.

Positive is a joint project of the Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit (a development arm of the German government); Wireless Services Asia (a private European company) and EITSC. Positive encourages local tertiary-level schools with CS or IT-related subjects to download and use free open source course materials developed by six partner schools.

The materials include syllabi, course presentations, laboratory workbooks and exercises and tests developed over six months by the Asia-Pacific Colleges, Angeles University Foundation, Cebu Institute of Technology, Don Bosco Technical College, Mindanao State University Institute of Technology and the Department of Science and Technology Region 7 Open Source Computer and Security Laboratory.

EITSC recently organized a forum with academe and software development companies to initiate the creation of a Dual Training System (DTS) curriculum for software development training.

Last May, EITSC also organized a Summer Enrichment Program in which 72 teachers took part in a train-the-trainer program. Topics covered included communication and English improvement and teaching techniques for teachers; technical and business writing techniques; IT fundamentals & database systems and Operating Systems. A similar activity is set to take place during the upcoming semestral break of schools.

ECCP executive vice president Henry Schumacher noted that international clients are looking for a number of criteria when eyeing an outsourcing business partner. These include proven capabilities in project management and execution, the availability of specific skills and ability to ramp up manpower at short notice, and quality management standards. ‘That’s the reason why we ran a quality management program – ComQual – for 16 software companies during the last two years’, Schumacher added, ‘ a successful program that was co-funded by the European Commission and generated initial contracts from European clients in the amount of US$ 0.5 million.’

He pointed out that ECCP has been continuously engaged in projects aimed at improving the work skill levels of Filipinos. In July, the government welcomed ECCP’s decision to support efforts to address the perennial problem on job and skills mismatch and the efforts of industry and stakeholders to find needed skills.

Labor Secretary Arturo Brion cited ECCP for committing to join public and private collaboration aimed at remedying the job and skill mismatch.

Brion said the ECCP's support would greatly boost the government's efforts to help students and graduates gain entry-level industry requirements through apprenticeship and dual training.

ECCP, through its member-companies, intends to provide college students on-the-job training until they graduate. It also aims to ask other chambers of commerce to partner with schools in training college students.

Brion said ECCP's commitment to help address the skills and job mismatch would fill the gap in the efforts to help students and graduates gain workplace training and entry-level requirements essential in their search for jobs, including those positions classified as hot jobs such as business processing operations.

He noted the ECCP initiative dovetails with the national efforts to facilitate employment and meet industry skills requirements aimed at sustaining the growth of the economy.

BPA/P is keenly aware of the human resources challenges facing BPO. Under the talent development component of its roadmap, Sañez noted that a major problem was mismatch between the location of the potential hires and the center, followed by the problem of top talents such as engineering, accounting and nursing graduates moving to other countries.

He said the talent component strategy should focus on increasing financial aid to students, improve work and study flexibility, launch continuous training campaigns that are relevant to industry requirements, and developing competency tests for students and trainers in schools.

A radical approach to the problem of hiring shortage involves opening up recruitment to non-traditional talents such as high school graduates, college dropouts and housewives, thus the need for strict competency tests.

Gil Genio, CEO of Innove Communications, subsidiary of Globe Telecom, believes addressing resource challenges such as talent and process maturity is one of three ways by which the Philippines can expand its share in the global BPO market. The other two ways are focusing on infrastructure investments and leveraging on government policies.

Genio said Asia could account for 10% of the total ITES market ($18 billion in the U.S. alone), with the Philippines taking five percent.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Three decades ago, a group of British scholars set out to determine the extent of man's penchant for War.

In their search for answers, these intrepid data crunchers manually pored over modern and ancient texts covering 5,000 years of recorded history, from the earliest Mesopotamian civilizations up until the 1970s when the Vietnam War continued to rage.

In all that time, these researchers discovered that mankind has had only had 27 years--an insignificant 27 years--of Peace, which they defined as the absence of War anywhere on this planet.

Reading about this in one of few dailies allowed under martial law astounded me and is so vivid it remains with me to this day.

Only twenty-seven years without a war anywhere on this martial planet. Incredible!

And hammering home Man's seeming thirst for War is fresh research revealing there have only been 26 days of Peace since 1945. That's only 26 out of the 22,000 days from 1945 to 2005.

Our country continues to contribute to the enduring evil of War with its festering twin insurgencies, including Asia's only remaining communist rebellion.

Mankind has never given peace a chance. History proves that and so do the thousands of wars and armed conflicts and over a billion deaths.

Sadly, War has always been--and remains--the favored arbiter of disputes between nations or armed groups. It is also the least effective sowing, as it so often has, the bloody seeds of the next conflict and the one after that.

Witness World War 1, the "War to End All Wars" that ignited World War 2 (history's bloodiest), which then led to the proxy wars between democracy and communism that, in turn, saw Muslims take up the sword in the conflicts that batter today's world.

And if one gazes at the 19th century, one witnesses our own revolution against Spain, one of the many wars for independence fought by enslaved peoples against predatory European empires, chiefly those of Britain, Spain and France.

Why does man avidly seek to kill?

The answers are as complex as the causes of war. But whether one believes the Biblical comment that Wars begin in men's hearts, or take into account my mother's opinion that most wars are ignited by greed, one cannot escape the reality of War's stranglehold on civilization.

Looked at in this aspect, Peace appears to be those rare moments when Mars, the God of War, loosens its relentless chokehold on mankind's neck. Peace, therefore, is mankind breathing freely.

A New Year has arrived and with it the inevitability there will be no additional days of peace in 2007 to add to those precious 26 days. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Chechnya will see to that, as will our own communist insurgency.

Then there are those "Wars-in-Waiting" such as North Korea, Lebanon, Iran, Taiwan, Russia and Georgia, among others.

A broad look at centuries of warfare reveals that the mutual exhaustion of both combatants--not military victory--has been the chief reason for ending most wars.

The evolution of today's warfare into drawn out and savage guerilla conflicts will again confirm this, and will ensure that military victory truly becomes a mirage in the desert.

With military victory all but impossible, there seems little reason why Man should go to war at all. But leave it to Man to invent reasons to kill his fellowman. George Bush and Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction come to mind here.

The commandment, "Thou shall not kill," remains the Eternal Casualty of War; Peace on Earth an empty promise.

This planet doesn't deserve the name Earth. Mars would be a more fitting name for this blood soaked rock, and Martians a more exact description of its dominant life form.

Welcome to Mars. And which War do you want to fight in first?

Where is the Filipino Intelligentsia?

Where is the Filipino Intelligentsia?

Is the concept of a Filipino Intelligentsia at all plausible? Or is it "un-Filipino" in a society where the stomach is king and the brain a look-alike stomach located in the skull?

Does this collection of intellectuals and knowledge workers exist at all as a distinct level of our society? Is it at the forefront of intellectual thought in science, the arts, culture, technology, the academe and politics?

Or must we hunt for these beings with the intense enthusiasm of astronomers searching for extra terrestrial intelligence? Are these creatures to be found in planets such as Starbucks and Seattle's Best where intelligent and unintelligent conversation seems to exist only amid clouds of simmering coffee?

Do they, like the ancient Greek Pythagoreans, gather in secret locations for fear of persecution by the jaded masses, there to revel in their shared knowledge among others of their kind? Are they the "educated derelicts" scoffed at in a famous ode to materialism, which boasts that only persistence and determination guarantee worldly success?

Is the Filipino intelligentsia those widely read and seemingly omniscient political columnists? Is it those stentorian TV newsreaders that reflect their network's bias for tawdry journalism? Or those mealy mouthed politicians with facile comments on whatever issue hogs the headlines?

Is it the rich? The richly educated? The long-suffering middle class that props up the economy but which receives a pittance in return? The religious orders steeped in arcane learning? Or, were I a game show contestant; is the answer, letter D, or All Of The Above?

And who are the leading lights of this invisible stratum of society? The "ilustrados" had Rizal, del Pilar and Jaena. Who speaks for the Filipino Intelligentsia of today? Who are its thinkers? And where can one read about their multitude of opinions, and of the necessary conflict of ideas that mark an Intelligentsia?

Who are these people?

Without an Intelligentsia, who is there to speak out with authority on those complex issues that bedevil the Filipino? Who will wield the Intelligentsia's power of using knowledge to goad governments and corporations into positive action? In this Information Age, why are Filipinos who know more afraid to show society they know more?

Is Knowledge a scarlet letter?

Perhaps a Filipino Intelligentsia does exist. But nothing has been heard of it. Perhaps it's because intellectuals prefer to work muted in the background, as if they were simply neurons.

But there is, however, truth to that centuries old observation that the true aim of education is not knowledge but action.

The Filipino Intelligentsia must take action by using its vast knowledge to make sense of the world around us. It must proudly announce its existence. It must assert itself against the strident voices of loud amateurs, rabble-rousers, hedonists and politicians of whatever ideology as the brains of this nation.

Where is the Filipino Intelligentsia?

Coming soon? Filipino "contractors" in Iraq

It's only a matter of time before we see heavily armed Filipino "contractors" in Iraq--if they aren't there already.

But unless some journalist blows the whistle, we'll never know for certain if that grim, Pinoy looking guard dressed in civvies and toting an M4 automatic rifle is a real Pinoy. He might also be a Colombian, Fijian or an American of Filipino descent.

Mercenaries are back. Only today, they go by the more respectable name of "contractors" who "officially" provide "only" outsourced combat support for a numerically weak U.S. military.

Contractors, however, are involved in combat in Iraq, which is inevitable since the insurgency is a guerilla war with no front line. Or in U.S. bureaucratese, Iraq is a "non-linear battlefield" (NLB).

Iraq is the largest market for the new "private military companies" (PMCs) that together constitute an industry worth more than US$100 billion (P5.4 trillion). Contractors are also in Afghanistan and in South America, particularly Colombia, assisting in the anti-drug war.

The more than 20,000 contractors in Iraq are the second largest armed force in that country behind the U.S. Most of these contractors are ex-U.S. military men. Special Forces operators, especially those from the U.S. Army and Navy, and the British Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) are in particularly high demand for contract work.

Some of the other contractors known to be in Iraq are Australians, South Africans, Fijians, Colombians (trained by U.S. Special Forces) and Nepalese (Gurkhas).

As a group, contractors have suffered the second highest number of combat casualties (killed and wounded in action) next to the U.S. An Internet website lists the deaths of some 250 contractors of varied nationalities in Iraq. In contrast, Britain has less than 100 combat deaths.

Although no figures for wounded have been announced, some sources estimate this figure at six times the number of dead. Over a thousand casualties for a group whose "official" job is to act as security guards for facilities and offices, and bodyguards for important people.

The four Americans whose gory murders in Fallujah clinched the U.S. decision to storm that city in November 2004 were contractors.

Contractors are mostly employees of PMCs such as Kellog, Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, Inc.; Control Risks Group (CRG), which has an office at the Citibank Tower in Makati; MPRI; Custer Battles; Erinys and Blackwater.

The are, as yet, no purely Filipino PMCs but the Philippines does have in abundance the raw material that goes into the making of contractors: trained combat infantry. In the Philippines' case, many of its infantry are veterans of years of guerilla warfare. It is an advantage not possessed by any other contractor country except Colombia.

The stunning growth of PMCs is in inverse proportion to the progressive weakening of the U.S. Army. With only 1.4 million men and women today as against over two million a decade ago, the U.S. Army is now involved in two simultaneous wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and is preparing for a third (Iran). A conflict in Korea cannot be ruled out.

The regular U.S. Army and its reserve component, the National Guard, are stretched close to breaking point on the ground as it is. There are no indications that Washington contemplates restoring conscription to significantly increase the combat strength (or "end strength") of its all-volunteer army.

Without this militarily sound but politically suicidal move, however, the U.S. Army is left with no choice but to continue outsourcing its combat support operations to PMCs to free more men for combat.

These support operations include feeding the troops, equipment maintenance, administrative work and construction. KBR, the largest employer of contractors in Iraq, employs Filipinos in non-combat roles inside fortified military bases.

Should the U.S. Army find itself involved in three or four wars within this decade, its reliance on PMCs will inevitably extend beyond combat support into active combat. There simply won't be enough uniformed fighting men to go around.

The butcher's bill in Iraq for the U.S. comes to more than 10,000 casualties since 2003, most of these are combat infantry. These losses will take years to replace. Turning a raw recruit into a proficient combat soldier takes some two years of intense training at huge cost. Producing combat leaders takes longer, up to a decade for battalion commanders.

With conscription a non-option, the only recourse for the U.S. Army is outsource its "non-mission critical" functions so it can comb out more men and women for its core competency, which is warfighting.

The U.S., however, has a huge pool of retired or resigned servicemen already trained in the U.S. way of war. Contractors are being drawn from this pool.

Money draws contractors to Iraq and Afghanistan. Combat contractors are paid lavishly by any standard. Ex-SAS men can receive up to 14,000 British pounds monthly (P1.5 million). Even for those at the bottom of the pay scale such as the Fijians, monthly salaries are in the region of US$1,000 (P54,000).

But more ominous than their involvement in combat (a fact that goes against current U.S. doctrine) are indications that the U.S. is leaning towards making contractors an organic component of its future armed forces. And this will profoundly alter the complexion of future war.

Who will build the first Filipino satellite?

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

CURRENTLY STREAKING THROUGH SPACE at thousands of kilometers per hour is one of the smallest satellites placed into orbit.

This small wonder is a "cube satellite" (CubeSat) with a size of only 10cm x 10cm x 10cm (a family size box of Safeguard soap is exactly 10cm long), and weighing just 995 grams. It completes a revolution of the Earth every 90 minutes and is sending signals to its controllers saying it's alive and well in the brutal environment of space.

What's amazing about this satellite is not its puny size. There are other CubeSats with the same dimensions orbiting the Earth.

What's amazing is that this satellite was made in Colombia. What's more amazing is that it was built by students from a Colombian university.

The "pico-satellite" Libertad-1 (Freedom-1) is Colombia's first satellite. It was launched into orbit along with 15 other satellites by a Russian Dnepr rocket last April 17 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the world's oldest and largest launch facility. A pico-satellite is defined as a miniaturized satellite weighing less than one kilogram.


Science and satellites aren't exactly the first things that pop into one's mind when one hears the word, Colombia. Libertad-1, apart from making history for Colombia, is also helping other people think about Colombia in another, more positive way.

The students from the Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogota, capital of Colombia, who built Libertad-1 are understandably overjoyed at their success.

If Colombia can build its first satellite, can the second be far behind? And who will be Colombia's first astronaut?

Placed into orbit along with Libertad-1 were seven other miniaturized satellites built by students from U.S. universities. The U.S. CubeSats were made by California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly), Stanford University and the University of Louisiana.

The U.S. has a CubeSat Project that creates launch opportunities for universities previously unable to access space. More than 60 universities and high schools are participating in the CubeSat Project.

The CubeSat Project is free and is open to all universities and institutions. Any educational institution can join the project by following three steps on the CubeSat Program website.

Norway's first in-orbit satellite, NCUBE-2, was a CubeSat built by Norwegian students and orbited in 2005. NCUBE-2 monitored the movement of ships along the Norwegian coast and the movement of reindeer in southern Norway.

NCUBE-2 was supported by Europe's own CubeSat program. In 2000, the European Space Agency (ESA) wanted to get more European students involved in space travel technology and space science.

It launched the "Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative" that soon involved more than 400 students from 23 different European universities in 14 countries in making satellites. One of these satellites was NCUBE-2.


Because of the many educational institutions involved in making them, CubeSats are also known as Student Satellites or StudentSats.

Now, that Pinoys have conquered Mt. Everest, why don't we now try to conquer the highest place in this planet--Space--by building the first homegrown Pinoy satellite?

If Colombian students can build their country's first satellite, surely Filipino students can also build this country's first homegrown satellite.

Agila-1 (now an orbiting derelict) and Agila-2 don't count as Pinoy homegrown satellites since they were built by foreign countries.

Miniaturized satellites such as CubeSats are giving countries that can't spend millions of dollars on traditional satellites the chance to use space to advance their national interests. It cost the Norwegians $30,000 to launch NCUBE-2 on board a Russian rocket.

We can enlist the help of the Americans, the Europeans or the Russians in making and launching the first Pinoy satellite. We have the brainpower. Students from our universities and colleges win awards writing gaming software and building dancing robots.

Our students can pool their brainpower to build the first Filipino satellite.

Our first homegrown CubeSat doesn't need to accomplish anything fancy such as taking high-resolution photographs. Colombia's Libertad-1 was built to send signals and monitor space temperature,

The purpose of the Pinoy CubeSat building exercise is to build and orbit a CubeSat. The team experience of building a satellite is the main reward. Giving the Philippines links to the world's satellite industry will also be a valuable advantage.

Our first homegrown satellite can simply play "Lupang Hinirang" as it passes over the Philippines. That alone would make it successful--and make us proud to be Pinoys.

Or it can do something more useful such as testing sensors and equipment for the second, but more sophisticated, Pinoy homegrown CubeSat.

But we've got to start now. And if this government doesn't want to do it, then Pinoy students must lead the way.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Warrior/World Peacekeeper: the Philippine Army of the Future

The end to the insurgencies plaguing the Philippines—hopefully by early the next decade—should herald a new era for the Philippine military.

Now more of a constabulary because of its counter-insurgency role, the Armed Forces of the Philippines will have to evolve into a totally new fighting animal, one poised to do combat on foreign shores. This impending revolution in Philippine military affairs will place dominant emphasis on conventional warfighting.

Intrinsic to this revolution will be the addition of new tools of the trade such as "big ticket" weapons systems; new combat doctrines and learning the "ABCs" of the new conventional war.

Conventional war, however, is evolving into something akin to the guerilla war in which the Philippine Army is most experienced. The "new" conventional war (or the 360 degree battlefield) will be one fought by “lighter” conventional forces backed by massive firepower; pervaded by computer technology and buttressed by civic action.

This new Philippine fighting force must have a reason for being. Peacekeeping will be that reason.

The Philippines has been a leading provider of troops and police for United Nations' peacekeeping missions since the end of World War 2.

The Philippines' armed commitment to world peace began and reached a peak in the Korean War (1950-53) to which the Philippines sent some 7,500 combat soldiers as part of the 21-country United Nations Command (UNC). The Philippines suffered some 500 casualties in the Korean "police action" against the communist North Koreans and Chinese.

The 55 years since fighting ended in the Korean War have seen non-stop Philippine participation in UN peacekeeping. In 2007, the Philippines pledged more troops and police for UN peacekeeping efforts worldwide.

The Philippines is one of Asia’s top troop-contributing countries. Over 600 Filipino soldiers and police officers are deployed in Afghanistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Georgia, Haiti, recently independent Kosovo, Liberia, Timor-Leste and Sudan.

In 2007, the Philippines became the world’s largest contributor of police officers to UN peacekeeping operations. In 2006, the Philippines was the 27th largest contributor of troops and police to UN peacekeeping.

But for the future Philippine armed force to fight effectively as part of an armed UN coalition means it has to read from the same page as its allies, and here lies the greatest challenge.

Future conflict in whatever form will demand huge technological resources not possessed by the Philippines. The country, therefore, will have to rely on foreign technology for C4I (command, communications, control, computers and intelligence) capabilities.

The Philippine experience in the Korean War--the last conventional war fought by this country--is revealing in this aspect. All the five Battalion Combat Teams (BCTs) sent to fight in the Korean War were veterans of the bloody campaign against the communist Huks.

Many of the men in these BCTs had fought alongside the Americans against the Japanese. The BCTs belonging to the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) were armed with U.S. weapons. Its men were trained in conventional U.S. tactics; its officers further trained in Fort Benning, Fort Knox and other specialist military schools in the USA.

Despite these advantages, the Philippines had its share of difficulties integrating into the United Nations Command that was dominated by the United States. The tendency of the U.S. to rely on its own soldiers, despite most of these men being greenhorns, also led to a misappreciation of the combat capabilities of the Philippine BCTs. It was an understandable but regrettable attitude.

Any future coalition conflict under the aegis of the United Nations will almost certainly be dominated by the United States. But integrating with the U.S. and its "wired" armed forces will be a mammoth problem for the Philippines.

The British have sought to mitigate this problem by adopting a new warfighting doctrine similar to the U.S.' Objective Force concept. The British are also developing the lighter and air portable warfighting vehicles demanded by their new concept of war.

The simplest solution for the Philippines would be a repeat of the Korean War model. The Filipino soldier can serve as a reliable ally; one that can be counted on to fulfill his mission as far as is humanly possible.

In time and with increasing experience, the Filipino soldier will become a "World Warrior/Peacekeeper," a fitting extension of the Filipino's current role as a "World Worker."

As the foot marching Roman legionnaires gave way to the Byzantine "cataphracts"--the magnificent armored cavalry that enabled the Eastern Roman Empire to defeat its eastern and western foes--so, too, must the Filipino World Warrior/Peacekeeper evolve into a force highly capable in both light infantry and mobile combat.

The challenge for the next Philippine government is to decide on an evolutionary path for the Philippine military. The Philippines' rise to the status of a great Asian economic power is inevitable.

History is on its side. And history has shown that credible military power can only flow from significant economic power.

Both are within the country's grasp--at last.

The first Filipino Christmas in space

In the 46 year history of human spaceflight, no Asian astronaut has ever spent Christmas in space.

Six Asian astronauts have traveled to space in the era of human spaceflight that began with Yuri Gagarin’s historic voyage on April 12, 1961.

As of October 10, 2007, a total of 467 persons from 38 countries have traveled into space either as professional astronauts, spaceflight participants or commercial astronauts.

The first Japanese in space, Toyohiro Akiyama, got the closest to being in space during Christmas. His space voyage, however, took place from Dec. 2-9, 1990. He flew to the Russian space station, Mir, on board a Soyuz TM spacecraft.

Akiyama was a TV reporter. His employer, the Tokyo Broadcasting System, sponsored his training as a cosmonaut and his trip to space.

The first Asian (excluding Russia) in space was Pham Tuan from Vietnam.

He rocketed into space as a cosmonaut on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on July 23, 1980 to man the Salyut 6 space station. Tuan stayed aboard Salyut 6 for seven days.

He was followed into space by fellow Asians from Mongolia (1981), India (1984), Japan (1990), China (2003) and Malaysia (2007). Five Middle East countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Israel and Iran) have also sent their citizens into space.

“Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” from space
Not that Christmas would have mattered to these non-Christian countries as much as it does in the Philippines. Only Japan celebrates Christmas with as much pomp as the Philippines, and that’s only because Japanese retailers see Christmas as a season to be jolly because it makes them a lot of money.

Call it very wishful thinking but a Filipino might yet become the first Asian to celebrate Christmas in space.

Yes, we don’t have a Filipino astronaut as yet. And yes, we will have one. Very soon, I hope.

And when we do have our first Filipino astronaut, here’s hoping he or she takes to space during Christmas week so he or she can achieve a double first: the first Filipino astronaut and the first Asian to celebrate Christmas in space.

Ah, to hear the strains of “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” beamed to the Philippines and to the diaspora of Filipinos in the rest of the world from on board the International Space Station (ISS), or any other spacecraft venturing beyond the Karman Line.

It’s enough to make one weep for joy.

The first Christmas in space
The honor of being the first humans to celebrate Christmas in space, however, belongs to the three American astronauts of Apollo 8.

In 1968, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to spend Christmas in space. They were also the first humans to orbit the Moon.

Apollo 8 left the Earth on Dec. 21, entered lunar orbit on Dec. 24, and returned to Earth on Dec. 27.

During Christmas day, the trio sent Christmas greetings and live images that some one billion people either saw on TV or heard on the radio. The trio read passages from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-10)

Borman closed their Christmas broadcast with the message, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth."

The crew of Apollo 8 was subsequently voted Time Magazine’s “Men of the Year” for 1968.

The first Christmas tree in space
The next humans to spend Christmas in space were also Americans. That distinction went to the three man crew of the space station, Skylab 4, in 1973.

Commander Gerald Carr, Pilot William Pogue and Scientist Edward Gibson also set up the first Christmas tree in space. The tree was fashioned from tin cans: its trunk was a tin rod and its “leaves” consisted of twirled tin strips.

The first crew to man the ISS, Expedition One, was also the first ISS crew to spend Christmas in space.

Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Pavlovich Gidzenko and U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd were on board the ISS during Christmas 2000. They spent Christmas day talking to their families through special radio links.

They also opened presents delivered earlier by a Russian cargo ship and the space shuttle Endeavour, and enjoyed a Christmas dinner made with rehydrated turkey. Shepherd said much of the day was spent gazing out of the ISS windows at the Earth below.

Six other expeditions to the ISS, including the current Expedition 16, have spent or will spend Christmas on the space station.

It is a grand dream to imagine a Filipino in space by the next decade. The first Filipino astronaut will be a great Christmas gift to all Filipinos around the world. Greater than the Filipino conquest of Mt. Everest.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Asia’s satellite industry: slow but big wins the race

(Published in June 2006)

AESOP'S FAMOUS FABLE about the tortoise and the hare does hold a lesson or two for Asia’s long-suffering regional satellite operators.

Falling revenues and profits; Ku-band overcapacity; bewildering regulatory environments; overabundant fiber and political interference hobble Asia in its race to reap the rewards of a world satellite services industry profiting from conflict and consolidation.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demand massive satellite bandwidth to support coalition military operations. Northern Sky Research says the U.S. presence in these countries will sustain satellite industry revenue growth. It believes that military use will generate 46% of all satellite service revenues from 2002 to 2007.

On the other hand, regional Asian satellite companies continue to rely heavily on TV and DTH as its revenue movers. Both 2004 and 2005 were marked by weak demand for satellite capacity from Asian broadcasters.

As for consolidation, this phenomenon has been the province of the Big Boys that dominate the world satellite services market. It hasn’t, as yet, helped Asia run faster in its race for revenues.

Asia, however, will win the race by doggedly plodding on bereft of the immediate push from conflict and consolidation. After all, it’s not a race to cross the finish line first.

It’s about who can stay in the race the longest—and profit the “mostest.” And Asia/Pacific, with more than half the world’s population and a horde of developed and soon to be developed economies, will win the race by sheer force of its numbers. Slow but big will win this race, as it did in Aesop’s fable.

Nowhere is Asia’s dominant potential as a satellite services market more marked than in direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting. Excluding China and India, Asia had some 8.5 million DTH subscribers in 2005. Including both populous nations, that number jumps to astronomical heights.

China promises to become the world’s largest DTH market in less than a decade. Some 260 million households are the potential market for DTH, said the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), China’s broadcasting regulator.

Analysts expect China’s DTH subscribers to hit 30 million by 2008 if the government launches DTH this year in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Chinese DTH satellites, however, are poised for launch in preparation for the official coming of DTH. SinoSat-2 is to be lofted into orbit later this year and ChinaSat-9 by late 2007. They will join the in-orbit Apstar-6, another DTH satellite. SinoSat-2 is China's first direct broadcast satellite and its largest to date.

China has about 360 million households, of which 100 million receive cable TV programs. Analysts expect satellite growth to outpace cable by 2009 due mainly to China’s satellite-broadcast industry.

For the present, however, China’s satellite industry is preoccupied with non-commercial pursuits such as sending a satellite into Moon orbit in 2006; conducting the first Chinese spacewalk in 2007; beginning construction of a space station in 2009 and landing a probe on the Moon in 2010.

India began commercial DTH operations only in October 2003 and by December 2004 reported over three million subscribers. Hong Kong-based research firm Media Partners Asia (MPA) said India is poised to become Asia's leading cable market by 2010, the largest satellite market by 2008 and the most lucrative pay TV market by 2015.

Indian DTH finally materialized in October 2003 with the launch of “Dish TV” from Subhash Chandra’s ASC Enterprises. That was followed in 2004 by the launch of “DD Direct Plus” from state-owned broadcaster, Doordarshan.

Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV is expected to roll out its DTH service in mid-2006 under the banner of “Tata Sky Ltd,” an 80:20 joint venture between Tata Group and Star TV.

Also set to go is India’s fourth DTH provider, Noida Software Technology Park Ltd (NSTPL), which is to begin its service in 2006. Two more players are scheduled to enter the DTH arena: Sun Network and the Reliance Group.

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) said satellite services were leading the industry’s recovery from the telecom crash of 2000, accounting for 63% of industry revenues of $97 billion in 2004. It said DTH contributed 81% of satellite service revenues.

SIA noted that while the satellite industry is emerging from the telecom downturn, companies from every major region including Asia and across each sector (operators, manufacturers, value-added resellers and carriers) are reporting improved business.

Last year’s big wave of consolidation among global satellite operators—like the five-year old war on terror—hasn’t been a crock of gold for Asia’s regional satellite operators. But it’s been great for newly merged Intelsat/PanAmSat and SES Global/Astra/Americom/New Skies Satellites, which have moved into new markets, but mostly outside Asia.

Both consortia have 20 satellites serving the Asia Pacific, including China. Intelsat operates 16 of these satellites.

Peter Jackson, chief executive officer of regional Asian satellite company Asia Satellite Telecommunications (AsiaSat), said the recent spasm of mergers and acquisitions created larger global players focused mainly on generating business in the USA.

“I don't think it will have significant impact on us as we are focusing on the regional Asian business,” he told media.

Jackson expects consolidation to continue and some analysts forecast that Asian regional carriers will be involved in the coming wave.

AsiaSat, which claims to be Asia’s leading regional satellite operator, has three in-orbit satellites with one more due to launch in 2008. It is minority-owned by SES Global of Luxembourg.

About the closest any regional carrier got to consolidation last year was the strategic cooperation agreement in December between Intelsat and Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Holdings Ltd.

The agreement between both operators was to market each other’s satellite capacity and ground resources, and to provide broadcast and telecommunications services to China and the Asia Pacific. APT has four in-orbit Apstar satellites including the new Apstar-6.

The partnership gives Intelsat access the Asia Pacific market through APT’s Apstar-5 and Apstar-6 satellites. APT will access Intelsat’s capacity in other regions of the world via Intelsat’s fleet of 28 satellites, expanding APT’s reach.

Analysts say the agreement also puts paid to persistent rumors of consolidation between AsiaSat and APT. But it does leave APT as a prime candidate for future consolidation moves with other regional or global carriers.

Growing stronger
One reason for the tepid interest in Asia is that Asia’s commercial satellite industry continues to recover from the telecom crash of 2000. Many in the industry see 2005 as the last of the slow growth years in which transponder overcapacity stood at a high 60% to 70%, and 2006 as the start of a real recovery.

Jackson noted that the transponder leasing market is “recovering slowly,” an opinion shared by Paul Brown-Kenyon, chief operating officer of Malaysian satellite operator, Measat Satellite Systems Sdn Bhd.

AsiaSat sees demand picking up in 2006 with continued growth in Asia Pacific economies, especially China. This growth, however, is not immediately expected to translate into a recovery in transponder prices, which historically lags behind economic growth.

AsiaSat saw both revenue and profitability fall in 2005. Sales dropped two percent in 2005 compared to 2004. The company’s satellite-utilization rate, however, increased to 54% in 2005 from 46% in 2004.

Jackson forecasts that major growth areas will be TV distribution and multiple location private networks. He expects satellites to move into new applications such as video content for 3G mobile phones delivered to terrestrial networks.

He is enthusiastic about HDTV and forecasts that all television will eventually be recorded and broadcast in high definition. HDTV will require satellites for the dual illumination that makes HDTV possible, hence the buoyant mood of the industry about HDTV.

New commercial satellite services such as DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) via satellite and broadband via satellite hold the brightest promise for Asia’s satellite companies, say analysts.

Northern Sky Research sees bright prospects for satellite broadband and estimates that revenues of $2.7 billion in 2004 should grow to $4 billion in 2009. Driving this 7.8% CAGR will be broadband Internet access via satellite. Northern Sky believes that satellite Internet access might well become the satellite industry’s first truly mass market service capable of competing against DSL on price.

Still hungry
The recent acquisition of Thailand’s Shin Corp by Temasek Holdings Pte, investment arm of the Singapore government, positions Singapore as Asia’s top satellite operator.

Shin Corp is parent company of Shin Satellite plc (ShinSat), Asia's third largest satellite operator. The deal, which will give Temasek control of Shin and its subsidiaries (including ShinSat), will dramatically boost Singapore's presence as a regional telecoms player.

It will also give Singapore and SingTel control over ShinSat’s fleet of four satellites, including the iPSTAR-1 Broadband Internet Satellite or Thaicom-4. Thaicom-5, to be orbited in 2006, is a dedicated DTH satellite.

SingTel already controls Australia’s SingTel Optus Pty Ltd, the second largest telecommunications company in Australia, and its fleet of satellites (four in-orbit; two to launch) while owning capacity on four other Asian satellites (three from Apstar).

Its ownership of both Optus and ShinSat plus ownership of the ST-1 satellite launched in 1998 makes SingTel Asia’s largest satellite fleet operator with 12 satellites.

Temasek followed-up the Shin Corp acquisition by buying a 9.9% stake in Tata Teleservices for an undisclosed sum, giving Singapore a foothold in India’s rapidly growing mobile phone market.

Despite these huge investments, Temasek said it retains a big appetite for more acquisitions in Asia. Managing director for investment S. Iswaran said that underlying the company’s investment binge is its “positive view of Asia and its growth prospects.”

He made no mention of further investments in Asian satellite operators such as APT, however. Temasek has US$103 billion available for investments.

Space: the Philippines' next Everest

China's spectacular feat of sending its first man into space in 2003, two years ahead of expectation, confirms the immense prestige space flight confers on countries that dare reach for the stars.

China's triumph is a triumph for Asia. In becoming only the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to orbit a human being via its own space program, China also became the first Asian country and the only developing nation to have achieved this wonderful exploit.

We tend to forget that China remains a developing nation like the Philippines, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. China's spectacular accomplishments in business and trade and its huge market potential tend to becloud its status as a developing nation, albeit the largest in the world.

Shenzhou (Divine Vessel) 5 carrying fighter pilot Lt. Col. Yang Liwei was lifted into orbit on October 15, 2003 by a Chinese-made Long March II F carrier rocket. It completed 14 earth orbits before the re-entry module carrying Yang landed in Inner Mongolia. The first Shenzhou spacecraft flew into space in 1999.

Communists claim China's triumph is a victory for the communist way of government. Only a command economy like Communism, they say, can marshal the national resources and provide the iron will needed to push forward with a costly and dangerous project such as a space program.

The erstwhile Soviet Union, which sent the first man (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) into space on April 12, 1961, was communist after all.

China's success in space did have much to do with competing ideologies and economic systems. The success of Shenzhou 5 can, after all, be traced to the technological one upmanship between communism and democracy that fueled the Cold War.

The late chairman Mao Zedong set China firmly on the road to space in 1956 when China opened its first missile and rocket research institute. In 1970, China became the fifth country to send a satellite into orbit.

I doubt whether China without communism could have sent a man into space as soon as it did. China was expected to carry out this feat by 2005, or by 2004 at the earliest, according to Western observers.

That China did so two years earlier than anticipated demonstrates China's unflagging commitment to a space program whose aim is to make it a world leader in space science and the exploration of outer space by 2020.

But I also do not doubt that a democratic China would have invariably sent a man into space. It probably would have taken several more decades to accomplish this, but this deed would have been done.

Why? Because great nations invariably turn to space to seal their greatness. Witness the United States and the Soviet Union. And Europe as a community of nations.

China's space program is now preoccupied prestige pursuits such as conducting the first Chinese spacewalk in 2007; beginning construction of a space station in 2009 and landing a probe on the Moon in 2010.

Its great Asian competitor is India. As it stands now, India is the likeliest candidate to become the fourth nation to send a man into space on its own.

India is also a great nation whose stated aim is to become only the second country to send humans to the Moon.

India hopes to achieve this feat by the second decade of this century, after it orbits its own space station. But India will first have to take the necessary step of first sending its astronauts into earth orbit before it can plan more grandiose designs.

India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), however, has not announced a timetable for India's first manned space flight. ISRO's present efforts focus on ensuring the reliability of its launch vehicle, the massive Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) that is expected to carry India's first astronaut into space.

China's announced ambition after more manned space flights is to also build its own space station and a fleet of space shuttles. Should this come to pass, the world will soon witness a New Space Race pitting two Asian countries that once fought a bloody border war in 1962, and have remained uneasy neighbors since.

Nations without manned space programs have also basked in the glory of space travel. The first Indian, Rakesh Sharma, rocketed into space as a cosmonaut on board the Russian Salyut 7 spacecraft in April 1984. The first Japanese in space, Mamoru Mohri, flew into orbit as a passenger on the U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavor in September 1992.

On the reverse side of the coin is the danger facing space travelers. Two Asians, the Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, and the Indian-American woman astronaut, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, died in the re-entry disaster that destroyed the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003.

All astronauts, cosmonauts or yuhangyuans (Chinese for astronaut) are heroes to be exalted and emulated. These men and women are, after all, a special breed of hero-intelligent, tough and highly skilled-the pride of their countries.

The Philippines has the human material needed to produce astronauts that will bring glory to the Philippines. The task ahead for this government is to make sending the first Filipino into space by the next decade the single-minded aim of a united national effort.

I am not proposing that we embark on a trillion-peso space program. What I do suggest is that we launch a search to identify, train and finance a core group of astronauts, one of whom will be selected to become the first Filipino in space. This search can be a joint project of the government, business and interested institutions.

Our partner in this Great Endeavor can either be the Americans, the Russians, the Europeans, the Chinese or even the Indians. Our astronaut will ride into orbit aboard the space vehicle of one of these countries.

He or she will also have to be trained in space flight by one of these countries. A joint mission involving Asian countries and astronauts would be ideal.

This Great Endeavor might even unite this nation as never before. Who would not want to see and hear a countryman in space greeting us in Filipino? This will be a day of great pride.

Our hope for greatness through national unity lies in space. Space is our Next Everest--and we will conquer it.

Who will be the first Filipino astronaut? This was a question I first asked the Philippines in 2002. What is her answer?

The race to control the Earth from the Moon

The perfect energy source does indeed exist.

It’s an energy source so safe that fusion plants using it can be built inside cities to provide electricity. It emits hardly any deadly radiation.

It’s so efficient as a power source that just one million metric tons of this material will produce more than 10 times the energy available from mining all the fossil fuels on Earth—less the pollution.

This perfect energy source is a gas called Helium-3 (He3). There’s enough of this material available to meet the Earth’s entire energy needs for a millennium.

There’s only one problem. It’s found only on the Moon.

And it’s fueling the Second Moon Race that pits the United States against a slew of competitors, the most notable of which is China. Other countries in the running are India, Russia and, surprisingly, Nigeria.

China vs the US
China is the US’ main competitor in this Second Moon Race that appears to be fueled by those old geopolitical objectives called money and power.

China is keen on mining He3 and other strategic moon resources such as water ice and titanium over the next 50 years.

Its Moon program, the “Chang’e Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP),” is essentially a grab for the economic and military power only a lock on the Moon’s resources can provide.

China aims to become the Moon’s first superpower. The United States’ moribund space program, however, seemed content to cling to the “Star Trek” mantra of boldly going where no man has gone before.

That is, until President George Bush in 2004 announced a “New Course” for space exploration that urges the United States to gain a new foothold on the Moon, and to prepare for new journeys to other worlds, specifically Mars.

The goal of the United States’ reenergized space program is to land Americans on the Moon before 2020.

But with Bush and his Republicans on the way out in 2008, it remains a question whether the Democrats share the Republican’s view of space as terrain to be conquered.

In China’s crosshairs
China, however, has the Moon firmly in its sights and appears intent on pulling out all the stops to secure this high ground in the coming struggle for the Moon’s mineral wealth.

A telling indicator of China’s focus on the Moon as a strategic resource is the man placed in charge of CLEP. That man is Ouyang Ziyuan, a cosmochemist and geochemist and a prominent expert in geological research and extraterrestrial materials.

Unsurprisingly, he’s a leading advocate of exploiting the Moon’s resources such as He3, and the leading proponent of Chinese-manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

China aims to build permanent, manned bases on the Moon, a vital first step in exploiting lunar resources. China expects to land on the moon by about 2024.

“The moon has become the focal point wherein future aerospace powers contend for strategic resources,” said Luan Enjie, then vice minister of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, in 2003.

Controlling levers of power
He3 is among those strategic resources. Some scientists see He3 as “the perfect energy source.”

Practically no natural deposits of He3 exist on Earth, however, but more than one million tons of He3 are believed to be found on the Moon. That’s enough energy to power the world for thousands of years, estimate some scientists.

The few hundred pounds of He3 that do exist on Earth are mostly by-products of nuclear weapons maintenance. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin found He3 on the Moon in 1969.

He3 is easily found in the lunar “regolith” or lunar soil, and is extracted by heating the soil to 600 degrees Centigrade. About half the Moon’s supplies of He3 are in the lunar “marias” or seas.

He3 fusion energy is extremely potent, nonpolluting and produces almost no radioactive by-products, as does the conventional nuclear technology used to produce electricity. It is, therefore, an ideal power source for spacecraft on long, interstellar trips.

In praise of the glorious Pinay

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

IF HOLLYWOOD wants the vilest of villains,
Right away they'd cast a Brit.
Viewers love English cads who inflict murder and pain
While skewering victims with their sharp British wit.

In the Philippines, however, pure villainy seems reserved
For the females of this nation.
So, Satan's a Woman (gasp!) whose persona must accord
With lucrative "Kapuso" and "Kapamilya" notions.

Her name must sound Latin, replete with the vowels "a," "i" and "e"
Such as, Lavinia, Valentina or Angelica.
She must be evil in the extreme, a super Cruella De Ville,
Who can bellow, "Mwa, ha, ha, ha ha!" with hateful glee.

She must speak perfect English. Yes, yes, she must.
The insults are more condescending this way.
"A second rate, trying hard copy cat!" turns to rust if it's just:
"Isa kang laos at puto mayang pusa!"

Well, I've lost my rhyme but not my reason
So, here’s the point I want to make:

Pinays are passionate goddesses many men worship with zeal
Loving, forgiving and fashionably smart
It's heinous to cast her as this hideously unreal
"Mega kontrabida" with all the charms of a putrid wart.

Have a heart, 2 and 7, don't give us more evil ladies.
I'd rather romance Katrina and Angelika, instead.
But if you truly, direly need a really vicious baddie . . .
Hire an Alien.
It'll make money for you--until you're dead.