Call centers make use of Netopia for training, recruitment

By Alexander Villafania
Last updated 03:18pm (Mla time) 08/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Internet café chain Netopia has started offering its facilities to several call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO) operators for training of employees, disaster recovery site and soon, for recruitment.


During a presentation, Netopia President George Tan said several call centers and BPOs have already started training their employees in their facilities. Among the companies are ePLDT, SPI, TeleTech, PeopleSupport, Convergys, InfoNXX and Accenture.


Tan said that so far, the training has been going well for all of their clients.


“We have branches that have been transformed into a classroom-style facility to emulate the feel of a training room,” he said.


For now, the Internet café operator is testing an online recruitment system for the call center and BPO operators wherein an applicant would only need to go to Netopia and apply online to Netopia’s client firms.


Tan explained that all paper tests would be done online and would be administered by the call center or BPO from its servers, delivered to the target PC in Netopia. Staff of Netopia will receive the applications in behalf of the call center or BPO and confirm the presence of the applicant.


One of their plans is to allow the test administrator to interview the applicant via video call. However, they are still testing the software and solving latency in the video stream.


“We hope this would be operational by September. The idea is to lessen the burden on the call center operator in hiring people outside the city or region while it makes it easier for applicants to apply and not have to line up during interviews,” Tan said.

DOTC ready to defend $329-M NBN project in any court

By Riza T. Olchondra
Last updated 06:49am (Mla time) 08/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said it was ready to defend the national broadband network (NBN) project in any court.


“We welcome the filing of any charges as we believe that the NBN matter should be resolved in a proper forum, which is the courts, and not through PR (press releases) and other grandstanding venues,” Transportation Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said in a statement.


Mendoza made the statement following reports that Nueva Viscaya Rep. Carlos Padilla filed charges against DOTC and Chinese officials. Padilla cited a case filed before the Supreme Court questioning the project


As for the case in the high court, Mendoza said, “We are now working with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to finalize our comments on the case.”


The $329-million NBN project won by ZTE Corp. of China is one of the target beneficiaries of the $1.8-billion loan agreement between the Philippines and China.


Signed and sealed


The Philippine government and the Chinese Export-Import Bank signed the deal without fanfare on Saturday on the sidelines of the ASEAN Economic Ministers meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati.


The NBN project is envisioned to establish seamless connectivity of landline, cellular, and Internet services among all national government agencies or offices.


DOTC reckons the government will save P2.51 billion yearly from the NBN project set to be undertaken by ZTE, aside from enjoying a lower three-percent interest on the loan compared with a nine-percent interest on government bonds used to fund communications spending.


On Tuesday, Padilla lodged a complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman against Mendoza, Assistant Secretaries Lorenzo Formoso and Elmer Soneja, four officials of the Chinese state-run company ZTE Corp., and several others.


‘Grossly disadvantageous’


Padilla said in his charge that transportation officials violated the anti-graft law and the Government Procurement Reform Act when they entered into a “grossly disadvantageous” broadband deal between the Philippines and ZTE.


“The NBN matter is now considered sub-judice, which means that the case is now in the hands of the court,” Mendoza said.

China sending virtual police on cyber-patrols

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 03:22pm (Mla time) 08/29/2007

BEIJING — Virtual police officers will soon begin visible patrols on Chinese Internet sites to warn surfers they are being monitored, Beijing authorities said in comments published Wednesday.


The images of the “Beijing Internet Police,” one male and one female dressed in uniform and saluting, will from Saturday start popping up every 30 minutes on computer screens run by 13 major portals based in the Chinese capital.


The cyber cops will be on the look out for websites and Internet activities that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling, fraud and pornography, the China Daily said, citing Beijing’s public security bureau.


“It is our duty to wipe out information that does public harm and disrupts social order,” the bureau’s deputy chief of Internet surveillance, Zhao Hongzhi, was quoted as saying.


As well as offering a reminder that “big brother” is watching, web users can also click on the cyber police images to connect with the Internet surveillance center and report suspicious activities.


“The virtual police officers will faithfully fulfill their duties, listen to the suggestions of netizens and protect them from harm,” Zhao said.


Chinese cyber-cops first appeared on portals based out of the southern city of Shenzhen last year, according to the China Daily.


While Chinese authorities have introduced the cyber police as a reassuring presence for web surfers, it will almost certainly give further ammunition to critics of China’s attempts to restrict the Internet.


Reporters Without Borders in February accused China of spearheading an increasingly sophisticated movement by repressive regimes around the world to restrict the Internet, using new technologies and old-fashioned manpower.


“China…spends an enormous amount on Internet surveillance equipment and hires armies of informants and cyber-police,” the media watchdog said in its annual report.


“With China enjoying increasing political influence, people are wondering…whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world,” it said.

PLDT hopes online IT quiz would showcase broadband in RP

By Erwin Oliva
Last updated 05:00pm (Mla time) 08/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) hopes to showcase potential Internet broadband applications during the finals of a nationwide online computer quiz competition this week.


Joined by graduates of the telephone company’s community outreach program for the last four years, the IT quiz competition will have four teams competing remotely via the Internet, said Evelyn Mamauag-del Rosario, head of PLDT Community Relations Division, in a telephone interview.


The online quiz show, dubbed PLDT MyDSL Broadband Quiz, will involve a quizmaster situated remotely from the participants. Each participant will have a video streaming view of the quizmaster on their computers, as they answer questions, the PLDT executive said.


Last week, Del Rosario said the regional finals involved 19 teams stationed in different branches of PLDT’s Internet café chain Netopia in key cities in the country.


On April 30, the four team finalists representing the National Capital Region, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will congregate in Metro Manila. They will be situated in four different Netopia branches in the metropolitan area, she said.


“We want to showcase the capability of our broadband Internet system. It is not only used for surfing or playing games,” the PLDT executive added.


The quiz, which will run for about 45 minutes, will test the computer literacy of the finalists.


A system has been placed to address possible latency issues during the online quiz show, Del Rosario said.


PLDT and the Asian College of Science and Technology Foundation Inc., have been offering free computer literacy training to public high school students and teachers as part of a community outreach program, the executive said.


The project evolved from targeting select communities to eventually providing a computer literacy course for public high school students and teachers.


“The Infotech outreach program is a project of the community relations program,” Del Rosario said. “We helped teachers and students of national public high schools learn how to use the computer. It is free. It involves a four-hour course for six days. It started with select schools in NCR through Netopia, then we went to the barangay level. Finally, we expanded it to the public national high schools. From 2003 to present, we’ve had 2,000 graduates.”


Recently, at least 54 schools expressed interest in joining the program, the executive said.


The IT quiz show is PLDT’s strategy to encourage corporate people to explore other applications for Internet broadband technology, she said.

Abalos tied to NBN deal

Solon cites many trips to China for golf, sex

By Norman Bordadora, Nikko Dizon
Last updated 02:01am (Mla time) 08/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. may have played a key role in the ZTE Corp. of China bagging the country’s national broadband network (NBN) project with a $329-million bid, an opposition congressman Wednesday said.


“Apparently, Chairman Abalos’ unofficial trips to China courtesy of ZTE and his golf games with the officers of ZTE can hardly be characterized as just friendly and totally innocuous. He was a man on a mission,” Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said in a privilege speech.


“Could it be that that mission is worth P15 billion?” he asked. The NBN project would connect all government offices.


Padilla said Abalos played golf with executives of the Chinese telecommunications firm in Shenzhen and in Mandaluyong City where the Comelec chair once served as mayor just “weeks before April 2007” when the contract was signed.


Padilla cited a column by Jarius Bondoc in the Philippine Star on an unnamed election official who reportedly negotiated the NBN deal while he played golf and had sex with women in Shenzhen.


“If this matter is investigated by the House, I suggest that this be made a required reading of the members of the House,” Padilla said.


Abalos laughed off the allegation that he was the Comelec official who acted as a conduit between the government and ZTE to seal the NBN deal.


On the phone, he was full of mirth as he said: “I feel flattered. I didn’t know I am that influential.”


Abalos said he could not imagine himself as someone who could influence members of the Cabinet like Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.


Wishful thinking?


Abalos also heartily laughed when he said he “wished” he could be the person, who was mentioned in the newspaper column as someone with the “sexual prowess” to handle two women in one day.


“That would make my wife very happy. You know, I am not at all affected by these allegations. It’s really laughable. One [partner] in the morning, and another in the evening?” he said, chuckling.


“At my age, I am already 73, why would I do that?” he added.


Ready to face probe


Nonetheless, Abalos said he would face whatever investigation Padilla or the House of Representatives would initiate.


On April 21, 2007, which was covered by the election period during which no government contract should be signed, Mendoza and Yu Yong, ZTE vice president, inked the $329-million deal in ceremonies witnessed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Boao, China.


Asked if the ZTE contract was legal even if it was signed at the height of the election campaign, Abalos said it would have to be looked into.


“We can’t immediately say if it’s allowed or not because we don’t even know if that is just an understanding or a contract. We have to see it first,” he said.


Two other companies — Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI) and US-based Arescom — came up with proposals of $240 million and $135 million, respectively, to undertake the NBN project.


Padilla said the Filipino firm AHI submitted an unsolicited bid under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) but the offer was set aside “despite the fact that under the BOT Law, the agency concerned is mandated to review the BOT proposal within a fixed period.”


E-Procurement Law violated?


Padilla said the E-Procurement Law was also violated because the award in favor of ZTE failed to go through an “honest-to-goodness” bidding process.

“There was no competition, no fight, nothing that would have ensured that the Filipino people will get the most of the taxes they are always constrained to cough up,” he said.


Padilla said the representative of AHI, which proposed to undertake the NBN through the BOT scheme, was asked to withdraw its unsolicited proposal to the DOTC.


Unofficial trips


Padilla said that weeks before the ZTE-NBN deal was signed, Abalos traveled unofficially to China.


“According to sources, ZTE Corp. paid for the hotel accommodations of Abalos. It was then unclear why Abalos was traveling to China, why he was doing so unofficially, and why ZTE Corp. was apparently sponsoring his trips,” the lawmaker said in his speech.
“On several occasions earlier this year, Chairman Abalos was also seen playing golf with officials of ZTE at a golf club in Mandaluyong City and in Shenzen, China. Obviously, this was more than a mere coincidence,” he added.


Padilla said Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso III of the DOTC made up the story about the ZTE-NBN contract getting lost with four other agreements signed in Boao.


He said Formoso made the claim before a round-table discussion at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City.


“Probably taken aback by the reaction of those present … (Formoso) almost immediately declared that there was no need to worry. He promised to make available copies of the reconstituted pertinent agreement,” the lawmaker said.


Contrary statements


Contrary to Formoso’s announcements, Padilla said Presidential Legal Adviser Sergio Apostol said the NBN project would not push through because there was no contract.


Favila, for his part, also said that what was signed in Boao was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and not a contract with ZTE.


“The day after (Apostol’s announcement) Mendoza and Formoso in an interview with the Inquirer practically made liars of Favila and (Apostol) when they declared that an MOU and supply contract with regard to the NBN had, in fact, been executed between the government and ZTE,” Padilla said.


Padilla noted that Mendoza and Formoso earlier said that the contract had been reconstituted.


“Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Formoso lied. The Department of Justice reviewed the transaction not the agreements,” Padilla said.

Jose Ma. Sison

THE EXILE FEELS RIGHT AT HOME: Jose Ma. Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, makes a congenial guide for the Inquirer photographer as he toured him in Utrecht, the Netherlands, last April. INQUIRER/ERNIE U. SARMIENTO

Korean National

korean.jpgSAVED. A Korean national covers his face after being rescued with other foreign and local tourists from the El Pueblo Salvador resort in Cavinti, Laguna. The tourists were on their way to see the famous Pagsanjan Falls when strong rains caused waters to rise, trapping them for several hours. INQUIRER/RAFFY LERMA