Space agency within PHL’s reach

Sen. Bam Aquino (from left), astrophysicist Dr. Rogel Mari Sese and Senate President Vicente Sotto III share a light moment.

“Invite me during the first rocket launch.” These were the first words of Sen. Bam Aquino to astrophysicist Dr. Rogel Mari Sese immediately after the Senate passed with an 18-0-0 vote for third and final reading Senate Bill 1983, or the Philippine Space Act, on May 20.

Sese, a Filipino astrophysicist who helped write the bill, was delighted that finally it was approved after his almost three years of lobbying in the Senate.

The bill, known as an “Act Establishing the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy and Creating the Philippine Space Agency [PhilSA],” will be merged at the bicameral committee with its House of Representatives’ counterpart.

Both the Senate and the House has until June 17 to merge their respective space bills and ratify it before they adjourn. After which, it has to be submitted to the President to sign into law.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Aquino, the chairman of the committee on science. His coauthors are Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Sens. Loren Legarda and Sonny Angara.

The counterpart bill at the House of Representatives, House Bill 8541, was introduced by Reps. Erico Aristotle Aumentado and Seth Frederick Jalosjos in 2016 and was approved in December 2018.

“Just a few more steps and we can finally proceed in creating a national space agency that would benefit Filipinos through policies and applications that will address pressing national issues,” Sese told the BusinessMirror.

He added that the country is now poised to take its place in the international space community “and become the newest emerging space nation in the world.”

De la Peña: It ensures the continuity of the space program

With the 18-0-0 vote for the bill, Sese was grateful for the full support of the Senate of the 17th Congress.

On a personal note, he told the BusinessMirror the legislation of the creation of the Philippine space agency was one of the reasons he came back from Japan in 2011 after finishing his PhD there. And it is now a reality.

“I am thankful to all who have supported [the passage of the bill]—the government institutions, academe and industry stakeholders, to what I consider my life’s work.”

Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, who witnessed the Senate voting on the bill together with Undersecretary Rowena Guevara, was very happy with the news on the approval of the space bill.

In a text message, de la Peña told the BusinessMirror: “[The passage of the bill] will ensure the continuity of the space technology development programs we [at DOST] have started.”

These programs include the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite Program that launched Diwata-1 and 2 microsatellites in orbit and was succeeded by the Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement, most popularly known as STAMINA4Space Program.

Aquino: Continue to dream big

Aquino, on social media, urged the people to continue to dream big for the country. “Let’s never tire of finding better solutions to improve the lives of Filipinos.”

In a Senate news release, he said the launching of a space program in the Philippines would give Filipinos a new perspective and valuable insights that could help solve some of the country’s biggest problem.

 “Satellites can improve disaster management from providing accurate information that allow early warnings and predicting of disasters to reliable and quick communication during relief and recovery operations,” Aquino said in his sponsorship speech.

Space technology, he pointed out, could also enhance production and profitability of agribusinesses due to soil and weather monitoring and assessment. It could help conserve and preserve the environment, improve urban planning, transportation and communication networks.

PCIEERD is ‘optimistic’

For its part, the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) of the DOST thanked the Philippine Senate for its unanimous vote in passing the space bill “that will bring the country onward and upward into the realm of space technology and applications.”

DOST-PCIEERD Executive Director Dr. Enrico C. Paringit said in a statement: “As the bills move into the bicameral conference committee, we are optimistic that our legislators will see the benefits that the Filipino people stands to gain once the Philippine Space Agency is created and takes the lead in implementing the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy.”

He said the government, particularly the DOST, has been laying the groundwork needed for a strong space science program through various human capacity building and technology researches that it has funded.

“The [DOST-PCIEERD] shall remain at the forefront of enabling innovations, like the Philippine Space Act, that will sustain the economic gains and improve the lives of our fellow Filipinos,” Paringit added.

Philippine Space Act

Once established, the PhilSA will be an attached agency to the Office of the President. Sese explained this is because of the “cross-cutting applications of space” in many different areas, such as defense, disaster risk and assessment, science, agriculture and environment to name a few.

In the bill, the PhilSA “shall 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 the Philippine Space Policy.”

Its framework will cover six key areas: national security and development, hazard management and climate studies, space research and development, space industry capacity building, space education and awareness, and international cooperation.

The approved bill does not only establish an agency but also legislates the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy—the country’s road map for space development aiming at making the country a space-capable nation.

Under the bill, initial funding for the space program amounting to P1 billion will come from the current fiscal year’s appropriation of the Office of the President. The amount for the subsequent operation and maintenance of the PhilSA will be included in the General Appropriations Act.

Additional funding amounting to P10 billion will come from the gross income of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for five years after the effectivity of the Act, with P2 billion to be released to PhilSA yearly.

PhilSA may also derive income on its specialized products, services and royalties as well as accept funding from loans, contributions, grants, bequests, gifts, donations provided that such grants, bequests, contribution and donations from foreign governments will be approved by the President upon the recommendation of the PhilSA director general.

According to the bill, the PhilSA office and its research facilities will be housed in at least 30 hectare of land under the administration of the BCDA within the Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga and Tarlac. Additional areas for research and launch sites will also be developed in the future.

PHL space tech since 1960s

The Philippines has been involved in space technology since the 1960s when the government built a satellite receiving station during the Marcos era. In the 1970s, the country also ventured on its first rocket development program.

In 1996, a Filipino private firm, Mabuhay Satellite Corp., acquired the country’s first in-orbit satellite, Agila-1, which was formerly owned  by an Indonesian company. In 1997, the company had its own telecommunications satellites, Agila-2, which was launched to space from China. (Agila-2 was developed by a US company but was launched from China).

In 2014, the Philippine government partnered with universities in Japan to launch the first microsatellite developed by Filipinos, Diwata-1. The government was able to develop and send two more satellites, Diwata-2 microsatellite and Maya-1 cube satellite in 2018.

Image credits: Roy Domingo


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