On Sunday, November 10, Britons and members of Commonwealth countries around the world marked what is called Remembrance Sunday.
It’s held on the second Sunday in November, which is the Sunday nearest to 11 November, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War in 1918. It commemorates the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts.
In Britain, Remembrance Sunday is marked by ceremonies at local war memorials in cities, towns and villages, attended by civic dignitaries and ex-servicemen and women.
In London each year at the Cenotaph, Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, Prince Charles and other members of the Royal family lay wreaths. They are joined by politicians, military, government officials and Commonwealth representatives.
Two minutes’ silence is held at 11am, before the laying of the wreaths. The silence represents the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, when the guns of Europe fell silent.
And in the Philippines, the British and Commonwealth community came together to mark this very special day with a Remembrance Sunday service at the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of the Holy Trinity in Manila officiated by Bishop Arthur Jones, the rector.
Among the congregation were ambassadors from the UK, Australia, Nigeria and Canada as well as military and diplomatic representatives from the US, India, South Africa, New Zealand and Malaysia.
The address was given by British School Chairman, Simon Bewlay, who was honored by Queen Elizabeth last year with an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for services to education in the Philippines.
It was a moving address and I’d like to share with you a short extract in which he made a profound point as to why most of us have never had to join an army, air force or navy to fight to defend our countries.
Mr Bewlay said: “I have never served in the armed forces, the nearest I got was being in the army cadets at school, hoping that being in the cadets would make an easy transition into national service (obligatory conscription into the military). As it happened national service was discontinued before I graduated. I never served.
My father did, he was a pilot in Bomber Command shot down on 7th November 1939 over Germany a week before his 27th birthday and just 12 weeks after his marriage to my mother. He was the first victim of German fighter ace Joachim Munchberg, who went on to claim another 134 allied planes before he died at age 24 after his final aerial combat over north Africa.
My father and his crew, however, survived. They were all taken prisoner, were POWs in Poland and Germany and my father came home nearly 6 years after being shot down
But I never served.
Then I realized, the reason that I, and perhaps many of you at this remembrance service have not served in the armed forces, is because of the sacrifice of those men and women who did, the men and women who died serving their country so that we may live in freedom, those who made the supreme sacrifice, defending the great democracies of the world.
I can make this address, with humility, because the very fact that I have not been called up to defend my country, is testament that our fallen heroes did not die in vain. We can remember not only with pride but also with profound gratitude, their service and the benefits they bestowed on their children and their grandchildren and succeeding generations.”
As American US billionaire Warren Buffett once said “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”.
On that basis, if you bought a condo in Manila as an investment in the last few years, now might be a good time to sell.
No matter where you look, there’s a condo or an office block being built. I spend lots of time in Manila these days and I constantly wonder who will eventually buy or rent the thousands of units going up.
Having personally witnessed property crashes in three countries in the past 30 years, what’s going on in Manila has to me all the feel of a disaster in the making. Not now perhaps, but later. I hope I’m wrong. After all, I have a property in Makati. But I’m not selling as my family live in it. In any case, it wasn’t expensive when I bought it back in 1996.
It’s difficult to know who to believe in this country as so many people are in so many other people’s pockets.
Newspaper articles talking in raptures about “unique and stunning” new developments and how values will “constantly appreciate” often read like ads – I’m sure some papers just take press releases and publish them “as is”. The big property companies are big advertisers so one can’t blame the papers.
Property companies talk of the good times with Western firms outsourcing jobs to the Philippines, the buying power of millions of Filipinos working abroad and low interest rates.
Antonino Aquino, president of Ayala Land, one of the country� biggest property developers, talked recently about the company’s $714-million One Bonifacio High Street project, which when completed in 2017 will host the Philippine Stock Exchange, a Shangri-La hotel and retail outlets.
The project also has a 63-story residential tower, with 298 suites ranging from Php22 million to Php82 million. The company claims the block sold out in 96 hours. If that’s true, even more reason to be fearful.
A spokesman for property developer Megaworld cites a litany of factors that indicate the good times are here to stay.
These include a backlog of around 5.7 million units versus 200,000 units being built annually; growing OFW remittances; improving economy; liquid and under-geared economy which leads to banks more willing to lend to consumers; low interest rate environment and the simple fact that buying a house for the rental market is a good investment instead of bank deposit yields.
Yes, the economy is doing well, but it seems too many pundits believe the outsourcing phenomenon will continue to be one of the biggest drivers of the property boom. That’s a worry.
Other analysts add that much of the billions of dollars OFWs send back home each year will continue to end up with investments in real estate. Well, they’ve all read in the newspapers about how real estate values will “constantly appreciate” haven’t they?
But one outfit not in anyone’s pocket is the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF recently warned the Philippine government that one of the risks the economy faces is a domestic asset price bubble which could burst, weaken its financial sector and slow down economic growth.
It was referring to the stock market and real estate. the ensuing risk of asset price bubbles and/or too rapid appreciation could compromise growth sustainability and dent employment generation, it warned.
In its Risk Assessment Matrix, the IMF outlined how the real-estate bubble could burst and torpedo the country’s long-term economic situation. Among other risks, it mentioned that the possible non-renewal of OFWs’ short-term employment contracts could make some real-estate projects unviable.”
I hope the IMF is wrong.
At a time when the Philippines is accused of being overly ambitious in its target of attracting ten million tourists a year buy 2016 – double the five million expected this year – Thailand it seems has too many tourists.
It wants to reduce the quantity, but increase the quality of its tourists. The country has grown weary of the cheap, backpacker holiday-makers, who throng to the country in their thousands each year. It wants to attract a better class of visitor – especially those who are going to spend big.
To keep the riffraff away, the Thai government is proposing to tax all foreign visitors. From January, tourists will have to pay 500 baht (Php687) if staying in the country for more than three days.
Tourists staying less than three days will be charged 30 baht (Php40) day for the privilege of visiting the kingdom.
“Now is the time for Thailand to have quality tourists”, said Thai Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong.
“The scheme would also prevent foreigners staying in the country after their visas have expired. There are about 100,000 foreigners in Thailand whose visas have expired, but they refuse to leave the country.”
Pradit said officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Ministry of Public Health and Royal Thai Police all agree with the idea.
His deputy, Charnvit Phrathep, added that the proposed tax is also the result of foreign tourists who have accidents or fall sick in the country and seek treatment at local hospitals but then can’t pay their bills.
“We try to send the bills on to the respective embassies but they always say they have no budgets,” Charnvit said
The tourism industry hasn’t responded favourably to the proposal. Tourism experts from Thailand and other parts of Asia have labelled the idea as unreasonable.
But Thai officials say that sustainability and the quality of the overall tourist experience may be improved with the new tax.
“The money will be used for many purposes by the tourism, health and foreign affairs ministries and the immigration bureau,” Pradit said.
Sidiwat Cheevarattabaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, was surprised at the tax proposal and said it’s not a good move and not in line with the government’s plan to promote tourism.
“The plan will affect the tourism industry, both in the short term and the long term, because tourists will feel bad about Thailand and they may feel they are being cheated,” he said.
In 2012, Thailand welcomed over 22 million tourists worldwide.
Western tourists have also reacted negatively. British backpacker Mike Spain said: “Despite getting billions each year in tourist revenue, Thailand has always treated tourists very badly. This is yet another example.”
But officials at the Philippine Department of Tourism must be relishing the thought of the tax as it might well encourage more tourists to choose the sunny Philippines for their holidays.
“We’re not snobs and, as we all know, it’s more fun in the Philippines,” quipped one Manila-based tour guide.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues to laugh all the way to the bank with its 40 million visitors a year. I’m just back from a short trip there staying at my favourite hotel, the Ibis in North Point. Hong Kong really knows how to pull the tourists in -. both the hoi polloi and the big spenders.