Filipinos use Waze not only to find out how to get to a restaurant, but also how to avoid the traffic snarls which could cause them to miss a romantic date. When they do, they thank God for their smart Samsung or Apple “device” that they paid big money for to operate from their pockets, but may fail to think of the space scientists and technicians who create and run the programs that put satellites in low, medium or geosynchronous orbit and maintain them in our service. Amazing that finding your way through Waze involves your device communicating to a combination of satellites, some of which may be 36,000 km above the surface of the earth and travelling at the speed of 22,000 km/hour! (Cars are held to 40 km/hour in Davao!) Today, satellites instruct my device to tell me where the delayed plane I’m expecting now is, what the current weather conditions are, when to expect the next typhoons, and tell me the magnitude of the earthquake I just experienced. Today, cars operate without drivers through satellites. Internet and telecommunications are augmented essentially by satellites.
Filipinos depend on space science and technology applications (SSTA) not only for quality of life but for life. Like the air, they hardly notice. Satellites are used for national defense. Weather forecasts and 3-D maps that are essential for life-saving responses to disaster are done through satellites. Climate change studies through satellites help human beings survive extreme weather occurrences.
In this environment, it is unfortunate that the Philippines to date does not have a central government agency that addresses all the national issues and activities related to space science and technology applications. This is so even though as early as in the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos the Philippines collaborated with the United States in launching a communications satellite, Philcomsat. In the 1970’s a consortiums of 17 private corporations put up the Philippine Agila Satellite Inc (PASI), which was followed by PLDT’s Mabuhay Philippine Satellite Corp. (MPSC). In 1996, on the urgings of President Fidel Ramos, MPSC acquired an Indonesian satellite which became Aguila I. In 1997, the Philippines launched Aguila II with the help of China. Only in 2010 did the Philippine Government get involved. In 2012, DOST launched its substantial Light Detection and Ranging Project (LIDAR) project used for 3-D mapping helpful in disaster risk reduction and management. In 2016, Diwata 1, the first earth observation microsatellite designed and developed by Filipinos with the cooperation of Hokkaido University and Tohuko University, was launched. This year, Diwata II was launched.
If we have put up satellites in the past, and have actually developed and launched our own, why shouldn’t we have a Philippine Space Agency that would better coordinate and focus our activities in the national interest? Why shouldn’t we come of age and lead in space science and technology in ASEAN? Why shouldn’t we serve ASEAN with a launch pad in Davao Oriental where the centrifugal force of the earth can be harnessed to help us propel satellites into orbit? As Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, program leader of the National Space Promotion, Awareness, and Capabilities Enhancement Development Program (National SPACE Program) of the DOST says, “having a space program is costly, but not having a space program is even costlier.”
As early as February of this year, President Rodrigo Duterte and DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña have expressed support for the creation of a Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) for this purpose. Hopes were high that the necessary legislation for such could be passed this year, but with the budget still not passed and bills on taxation and labor certified as urgent this no longer seems likely. Today, it is the Senate that is leading in the legislative effort to pass a law through SB 1983 consolidating authored by Sens. Bam Aquino and Lauren Legarda. A parallel HB 8541 is now up for deliberation on the floor.
Nevertheless urgent attention should be given to the passage of this legislation in the context of the State’s policy to:
- safeguard Philippine sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self determination;
- support the science and technology in the Philippines necessary for the development of the space science and technology applications that would foster patriotism, nationalism and accelerate social progress;
- ensure Philippine access to space as a sovereign right and to create a national strategy for space development;
- create a coherent and unified national strategy for space development tht would allow the Philippines to keep up if not surpass other nations in space science and technology applications;
- be officially represented in the international space community to begotiate agreements and linkages in space development;
- ensure Philippine compliance in space treaties and agreements within the international space community.
SB 1983 wishes to be known as the Philippine Space Act. It creates the Philippines Space Agency (PhilSA). It mandates it to create the Philippine Space Policy – the country’s roadmap for space development. It embodies the country’s central goal of becoming a space-capable and space-faring nation within the next decade.
The framework of the space policy includes six key development areas;
- national security and development;
- hazard management and climate studies;
- space and research development;
- space education and awareness; and
- international cooperation.
In creating the PhilSA, SB 1983 mandates it to be “the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the Executive Branch of the government that will plan, develop and promote the national space program in line with the Philippine State policy.
In the HB counterpart, the PhilSA operates under the DOST.
In SB 1983, the PhilSA is attached to the Office of the President. It is run by a Director General, who is a cabinet secretary. In the HB counterpart it is attached to the DOST. Its Director General is an undersecretary.
SB 1983 creates a Philippine Space Council that is chaired by the President. Its members include the:
- Secretary of Science and Technology – Vice-Chair
- Secretary of National Defense
- Chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology
- Chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology
- Director General of the NEDA
- Secretary of Finance
- Secretary of Foreign Affairs
- Secretary of Agriculture
- Secretary of Environment and National Resources
- Secretary of Trade and Industry
- Secretary of Communications Technology
Considering the large requirement of SSTA in qualified scientists, engineers and specialized technologists, the absence of the Chair of the CHED and the Director General of the TESDA in the Philippine Space Council is glaring.
Dr. Rogel Mari Sese closes his lecture for the Planning Workshop of the UK-PH Nanosatellite Constellation with a quotation from William Burrows of the Wall Street Journal:
“The question to ask is whether the risk of travelling to space is worth the benefit. The answer is an unequivocal yes, but not only for the reasons that are usually touted by the space community: the need to explore, the scientific return, and the possibility of commercial process. The most compelling reason, a very long-term one, is the necessity of using space to protect and guarantee the survival of humanity.”
Thank you to the legislators behind SB 1983, esp. Sens. Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, win Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Greg Honasan and Chiz Escudero, and its HB counterpart. Beyond the budget, TRABAHO and the anti-Endo legislation, the President would do well to certify this legislation as very urgent.