Recto: After 150 years, time to upgrade PAGASA
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will hold plenary debates on the bill modernizing PAGASA as soon as it resumes sessions in May, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.
"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 in a statement Saturday, March 28.
The plan comes as the state weather bureau celebrates its sesquicentennial this 2015. The senator said that this is “is the best birthday gift on the weather bureau’s 150th year."
PAGASA was created on December 8, 1972, through Presidential Decree No. 78, which reorganized the Philippine Weather Bureau. The bureau's main precursor, the Manila Observatory, was founded January 1, 1865, and is still in existence as a research institution based at the Ateneo de Manila University.
The modernization, according to Recto, will have 7 components:
- Equipment and operational techniques
- Data center
- Information services
- Human resources
- Regional and field weather presence
- Global linkages
Recto, chair of the Senate committee on science and technology, said PAGASA will also need P3.9 billion ($87.02 million) for its needed equipment and facilities.
The amount will be sourced from the national budget and from the net income of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
"'Yang P4 billion na initially hinihingi ng PAGASA ay maliit kumpara sa P116 billion in combined damages to property and infrastructure ng 4 na bagyo pa lang, ang Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, Yolanda noong 2013 and Glenda last year," he explained.
(The initial P4 billion that PAGASA is asking for is small compared to the P116 billion in combined damages to property and infrastructure of just 4 typhoons: Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, Yolanda in 2013, and Glenda last year.)
PAGASA has a 2015 budget of P3.4 billion ($75.87 million), P2.5 billion ($55.78 million) of the amount allocated for capital outlay.
Environmental organization German Watch in its Global Climate Risk Index 2015 said that the Philippines tops a list of countries said to be most affected by climate change in 2013.
For countries like the Philippines, weather agencies such as PAGASA play a significant role in disaster-mitigation.
"A key component of climate change preparation is a well-equipped weather bureau, manned by highly-competent and well-compensated professionals," Recto said. (READ: PAGASA station struggles despite upgrades)
Part of the modernization plans is to "go local." This means PAGASA expanding its "regional reach, provincial presence, and field services." Right now, 10 Doppler radars are located from Aparri, Cagayan to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, with 5 more being built.
"But we all know that equipment is only as good as the people manning it, and the bill creates a package that will reward and train PAGASA personnel," Recto said.
Modernizing PAGASA also means introducing a new salary scale for its 1,034 staff, a "personnel retention incentive" – a portion of the base pay, for meteorologists and forecasters – and training incentives in the form of scholarship grants.
"The idea is to adequately arm PAGASA so it can give us adequate and up-to-date weather information to help us prepare for, and to be protected from, typhoons, floods, landslides, storm surges, El Niño, and extreme climatic events," Recto said. (READ: Ill-equipped agency? Story on COA audit of PAGASA 'misleading') – Jee Y. Geronimo/Rappler.com
*1 US$ = P44.82