Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Modernization law should be PAGASA's 150th birthday gift
MANILA-The Senate will soon begin floor debates on a bill upgrading PAGASA’s equipment, staff pay, research capabilities and communication reach which its author says “is the best birthday gift on the weather bureau’s 150th year .”
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the bill modernizing the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) will be reported out the moment the Senate resumes its sessions in May.
Recto, who also chairs the Senate science and technology panel, said “the ferocious, fickle and frequent storms” climate change brings call for “a strengthened weather agency which can warn and guide the public on how to respond to threats to lives and properties.”
“A key component of climate change preparation is a well-equipped weather bureau, manned by highly-competent and well-compensated professionals,” Recto said.
“We want a modern PAGASA that can warn us about typhoons and weather disturbances coming our way and which has a working environment which prevents forecasters from leaving the Philippine area of responsibility,” Recto said.
The bill Recto will recommend for approval will have seven modernization components : equipment and operational techniques, data center, information services, human resources, regional and field weather presence, research and global linkages.
“The idea is to adequately arm PAGASA so it can give us adequate and up-to-date weather information to help us prepare for, and to be protected from, typhoons, floods, landslides, storm surges, El Nino, and extreme climatic events,” Recto said.
The cost of immediately needed equipment and buildings is P3.9 billion, based on a “preliminary shopping list” PAGASA has submitted to the Senate.
To finance this, as well as future needs, the Senate bill will tap both budgetary and “off-budget” sources. Included in the latter is a proposed P3 billion from the net income of PAGCOR, to be taken from the 50% share of the national government, which in 2013 was P13 billion.
“If we need to get it from gaming revenues, so be it. We need the money so we don't have to roll the dice in predicting if it will rain tomorrow,” he said.
Recto said investments in PAGASA dwarf the “damages caused by typhoons in this climate change-era when they’re coming in at unexpected places, unexpected strengths, and unexpected times.”
“ ‘Yang P4 billion na initially hinihingi ng PAGASA ay maliit kumpara sa P116 billion in combined damages to property and infrastructure ng apat na bagyo pa lang, ang Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, Yolanda noong 2013 and Glenda last year,” the senator said.
The Philippines ranks 2nd in the world as the most disaster-risk country, according to the World Risk Index 2014, a report of the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the German Alliance Development Works.
Also envisioned in PAGASA’s modernization is for the agency to effectively market and disseminate information it has generated “even at pinpointed local areas,” Recto said.
“Going local” is also the principle that will drive its equipment modernization, Recto stressed. “It is specified in the bill that PAGASA has to expand its regional reach, provincial presence and field services.”
At present, this need is serviced by a string of 10 Doppler radars from Aparri, Cagayan to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. Five more are being built.
“But we all know that equipment is only as good as the people manning it, and the bill creates a package that will reward and train PAGASA personnel,” Recto said.
Under the measure, a new salary scale for PAGASA personnel will be drawn up, Recto said. “It will also provide a ‘personnel retention incentive,’ representing a portion of the base pay, for meteorologists and forecasters.”
Training incentives shall come in the form of scholarship grants.
One of the oldest government agencies, PAGASA traces its beginnings to January 1865, when two Jesuits started recording daily weather data in the Observatorio Meteorologico of the Ateneo in Intramuros. The observatory soon became a public institution through a Spanish royal decree.
At present, PAGASA has a total of 1,034 staff positions. For 2015, it has a budget of P3.4 billion, P2.5 billion of which is for capital outlays.
Recto said PAGASA’s mandate goes beyond hourly weather bulletins during storms.
“It is not a foul-weather friend. Its inputs are needed in polices and preparedness plans dealing with water resources management, agriculture, transportation, health, tourism and other sectors,” he said.
“Planting intentions, holiday plans, construction schedules are weather-dependent. To achieve this, we need a dependable weather service,” Recto said.
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