MANILA—As the rainless El Niño swings to the other extreme of a rainy La Niña, the government was urged Saturday to release funds for the equipment upgrade of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) pursuant to a law modernizing the weather agency.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto over the weekend said an initial Php3 billion for new weather forecasting facilities has been authorized under the PAGASA Modernization Act, which President Aquino signed into law on Nov. 3, 2015 as Republic Act 10692. Recto is principal sponsor of said law.
With the possibility of a La Niña, the release of said money, Recto stressed, “is crucial as PAGASA actually incurred a budget cut this year, from Php3.44 billion in 2015 to Php1.21 billion for 2016.”
The veteran lawmaker said the weather bureau’s capital outlay budget, or what is earmarked for buildings and equipment, “got the deepest cut, from Php2.47 billion to Php344 million.”
“That’s a Php2.1 billion reduction. It can, however, be recouped if the Php3 billion for new equipment under the PAGASA Modernization Act will be made available to them,” he pointed out.
Although many equipment and weather stations have in recent years been bought and installed, like the country’s 13th (out of the planned 15) Doppler radar, which was inaugurated in Iloilo Friday, “PAGASA needs to have more installed in this typhoon-prone country of ours,“ Recto said.
Recto said PAGASA had only Php4.2 million this year “to install, repair and maintain telemetering and multiplex system for flood forecasting and warning system in 18 major river basins.”
In its performance pledge in the 2016 budget, PAGASA guarantees “a 100-percent accurate and robust science-based” weather related information and services in “28 vulnerable provinces.”
According to Recto. the PAGASA Modernization Law lists the programs which must be funded so it can deliver reliable, timely and localized weather forecast.
The “vision is for PAGASA to go local”, and this would need deploying weather equipment in as many areas in the country as possible, Recto explained.
“We want a weather bureau to tell us when and where it would rain, so that the man behind the carabao in Mindoro will know when to plow the field and the man behind the wheel in Malabon will know when to plod through flooded streets,” he added.
The senator urged the government to give PAGASA the funds to allow it to buy the equipment needed to make the system for localized weather forecasting fully operational.
The PAGASA Modernization Act centers on seven modernization components: equipment and operational techniques, data center, information services, human resources, regional and field weather presence, research and global linkages.
To discourage PAGASA personnel from “leaving the Philippine area of responsibility” for higher pay abroad, the law authorizes a “package of personnel retention schemes,” Recto stressed.
The law also authorizes salary and other compensation adjustments and funding for training and scholarships.
The Batangeno senator said the “ferocious, fickle and frequent storms” caused by climate change call for “a strengthened weather agency which can warn and guide the public on how to respond to threats to lives and properties.”
Recto said a parade of cyclones from 2004 to 2014 left 14,150 dead, 46,691 injured, 4,169 missing; damaged 5.5 million houses and destroyed P338 billion worth of properties.
Only last Thursday, PAGASA warned the public on the possibility of a La Niña event occurring later this year.
This phenomenon is the opposite of El Niño and is characterized by above normal rainfall, strong monsoon activity, and formation of more tropical cyclones.