In recent years, the Philippines has experienced the effects of climate change with stronger typhoons and multiple natural calamities, putting the lives of Filipinos at great risk. With the phenomenon bound to continue, the information that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the primary agency tasked to monitor such risks, provides becomes increasingly important. As PAGASA administrator Dr. Vicente Malano put it, “Our work is tantamount to the protection of lives and properties.” For Dr. Malano, the crucial role of the agency in dealing with natural disasters, such as typhoons, is inevitable; when natural disasters happen, people look to information providers like PAGASA, and the agency strives to be competent enough to provide what is needed.
Dr. Malano, who became PAGASA’s head in 2013, has logged over 37 years of service with the agency and is continuing so to this day. However, like most people in the industry, his humble beginnings wasn’t as easy. He recalls, “I joined PAGASA through the training program, the in-house training program in 1981-’82. So I was accepted as one of the members or the employees of PAGASA in 1982 after the training. The training was a meteorologist training course. Before you enter PAGASA you should undergo this training program.”
After staying for two years, he passed the qualifying exam in the University of the Philippines (UP) to get his Masteral Degree in Meteorology, and soon after, his PhD.
It can be said that Dr. Malano really worked his way up the ranks “Pagkatapos ng training noong 1981, nag-umpisa ako as a meteorologist. Yung Meteorologist 1 and 2. Tapos na-rename yung meteorologist, naging specialist ang tawag, weather specialist pero yun din yun.(After the training in 1981, I started as a meteorologist. Meteorologist 1 and 2. Then the position was renamed to specialist, weather specialist but it was essentially the same.” In 2010, he headed the National Capital Region Division and went on to be the deputy of operations. After former administrator Nathaniel Serbando stepped down in 2013, Dr. Malano was the clear choice to be PAGASA executive.
MOVING TOWARDS A BETTER INFORMED FILIPINO PEOPLE
To the public, the task sounds simple, “I-run mo ng maayos yung PAGASA (run PAGASA well) and oversee PAGASA on how you’re going to manage its operations,” but what PAGASA is here for is very crucial. When it comes to information concerning natural disasters such as typhoons, “Lahat ay recipient ng information na meron kami.” (Everyone is a recipient of of the information we have.”) Dr. Malano would like to believe that PAGASA is not remiss, saying that it is an agency that puts primacy in information for its services. “From data collection,, processing, then dissemination of information, warning. Then coordinating with other agencies like local government units (LGUs) for disaster prevention, climate projection, and complementary to the services of other departments.”
He envisions PAGASA in partnership with other government agencies, LGUs, and global partners in disseminating the information the agency gathers. “Dapat magiging kaakibat o ka-partner nga in terms of disseminating our information kasi kahit na gaano pa kaayos ang iyong forecasting kung hindi naman naintindihan ang information mo, wala rin,” (They should be our affiliates or partners in terms of disseminating our information because even though we are efficient at forecasting if the information cannot be understood, it will be useless,” Malano said.
“The coordination of agencies is important because people look to PAGASA and other information providers such as Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS)” to counter the increasing risks brought about by natural disasters. Dr. Malano believes that the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 is a huge boost for his vision. “The act gave a clear-cut role to the different government agencies. Disaster risk reduction and management is not the job of one information provider. It should be the collective effort of agencies,” he said.
PAGASA consistently provides information every month to concerned agencies from the data gathered from its 16 station radars and 3 mobile radars stationed across the country. Dr. Malano said that PAGASA not only provides data as it comes but also archives the data to provide historical and baseline data. PAGASA has an existing archive from all its radar stations dating to as far back as 1948. Further, the agency provides data projection in different time scales. “Meron tayong projection, climate projection na tinatawag: 50-year projection, hundred year projection. Anong nangyayari sa ulan, anong nangyayari sa temperature in the next 50 or 100 years.” (“We have projections, what we call climate projections: 50-year projection, hundred-year projection. How will rainfall be, how will temperature be in the next 50 or 100 years.)”
As for the recent water shortage problem, Dr. Malano says that it could have been avoided with proper planning. He recounts that the adverse effects of El Niño also happened in 2015-2016, and the the role of their agency should have been a warning to the concessionaires. “Yung PAGASA ay nagpo-provide ng information six months in advance. Kung halimbawa may impending na pagkukulang sa tubig, kung ano ba yung magiging tubig, kahit na more than normal yung tubig, nagpo-provide tayo niyan. It is updated every month.” (“PAGASA provides information six months in advance. For instance, if there is an impending water shortage, how will the situation be, even if there is more than enough water, we provide such information.)” These things all come from the information that PAGASA gathers and shares to better aid the public. “The application of our information is really there. We are conducting research in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, in partnership with PhilRice; through DOST we have the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Aquatic Resources Research and Development Council. The agency has existing partnerships with UP Los Baños (UPLB) and UP Diliman. We even have publications on information like applications for agriculture and for water resource development.”
COMPETITIVENESS AT ITS CORE
As far as the global competitiveness of PAGASA is concerned, it is at par with similar agencies in our neighbors in Southeast Asia. “Sa ngayon ay we are in the process of modernizing ng agency.
(“We are presently in the process of modernizing the agency.”) The PAGASA Modernization Act has seven components. These include equipment, radars, human resource development, and dissemination systems. The agency is enhancing research capabilities, human resources, and linkages especially with global partners. Dr. Malano ensured that PAGASA is keeping its commitment to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. Due to the vast coverage of PAGASA, one thing that really needs more improvement is human resource. The agency is forced to outsource some operations in order to make sure that the stations are properly manned.
The agency has continuously been expanding services, including flood forecasting and warning. There are more stations to man and workforce is definitely needed. By 2020, Malano said that there will be over 20 long-range type of radars stationed across the country. In addition to the existing 16 stations, new stations will be situated in Bohol, Laoang in Samar, Masbate, and Agno in Pangasinan. “During this time we are also in the process of installing seven x-band type of radars. These have a shorter range but are more precise in monitoring rain. Four or five of these will be in Mindanao,” Malano added. A total of five x-band radars will be funded by the government. More will be installed through a grant project from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“So ito talaga yung sabi nga eh pag nakita na ng radar yang mga weather disturbance eh kampante ka nang tama yung ano mo eh, tama na yung monitoring mo. Pag radar na ang nakakakita. Kasi kung halimbawa dito sa may Pasipiko… ang range ng radar kasi ay umaabot ng 450 kilometers. So doon sa Pasipiko is more than 1000 pa yan. So ang ginagamit nating mag-monitor niyan ay yung satellite. Ang satellite kasi, yung tuktok lang yung nakikita nun. So doon sa baba, hindi nakikita. So pagka-radar nakikita pati doon sa baba. (So with this you could say that when the radar detects those weather disturbances, you can be confident of having accurate monitoring. When a radar is used to detect such. Because for example in the Pacific Ocean… a radar’s range is up to 450 kilometers. So in the Pacific, that is more than 1000 [kilometers]. So we use satellites for monitoring. With a satellite, you could only see the upper portion. The lower portion is not visible. When a radar is used, you could see even the the lower portion.)” This just shows that the agency is definitely not far behind compared to meteorological agencies in neighboring countries in terms of research and operations. Aside from the usual news that Filipino forecasters and weather specialists are offered international jobs, which is an indicator of how skilled Filipino weather specialists are, the agency is knowledgeable enough to offer short training programs through the WMO to other countries especially those in this area of the Pacific or Asia-Oceania. There are countries such as Fiji, Republic of Vanuatu, Bhutan, and Cambodia which send their officials to the Philippines to train under the meteorological training program of PAGASA.
As far as the global competitiveness of PAGASA is concerned, it is at par with similar agencies in our neighbors in Southeast Asia.
Since his assumption as administrator, Dr. Malano has propelled the agency to greater heights, resulting in numerous awards and recognitions for its operations. In 2015, the agency placed fifth among the Top 10 government agencies. As reiterated by Malano, the agency has a vast scope so coordination with other agencies is important for their expertise, skills, and reliable information to be utilized. Dr. Malano’s commitment to this mindset is evident in the multiple awards and recognition given to PAGASA by other agencies such as the Philippine Air Force’s 900th Air Force Weather Group. The agency also consistently receives recognition from the country’s central monetary authority, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, for being an outstanding partner for monetary policy and source of information. Just last year, the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID) and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) also recognized PAGASA for ensuring the success of the Disaster Preparedness and Response project that the international bodies undertook in the Philippines. The agency was also nominated as a freedom of information champion in 2018, a testament to the commitment of Dr. Malano and the whole agency to sharing its valuable information.
BEACON OF HOPE
The agency’s name, PAGASA, means “hope” in English. Dr. Malano believes that more than just the coincidental meaning of the name, the agency really does provide hope for the Filipino people. As global warming and climate change increasingly affect the Philippines, Dr. Malano highlights the importance of coordination of different agencies. PAGASA has existing projections on what is bound to happen in the next 50 years. Preparation based on such should follow, but PAGASA cannot do this alone. Dr. Malano believes it would be best if agencies come together for more studies. PAGASA’s crucial information on events such as drought, temperature increase, and amount of precipitation will surely help programs centering on crop production, protection of water resources, and others. Accurate information regarding environmental threats could help Filipinos to minimize the loss of lives, damage to properties, and other risks. With the competitiveness of PAGASA and Dr. Malano’s leadership, there is hope that the Philippines will not just be disaster resilient, but disaster prepared. — GREG HUBO