Philippine Space Agency: From A Dream To Reality

Now that the Philippine Space Agency law is just a signature away from reality, we talked to two of the main persons behind the legislation, Dr. Rogel Mari Sese and Senator Bam Aquino.

AsianScientist (Jun. 19, 2019) – The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) is now a signature away from reality as both houses of the Philippines Congress have ratified the bicameral committee report of the PhilSA Bill.

The Bill has been sent to the office of President Rodrigo Duterte for his signature. The President has 30 days to act on the legislation. If the President does not veto it, it will automatically become a law.

Chasing an ‘impossible’ dream

In 2011, the dream of having a space agency from the Philippines prompted Dr. Rogel Mari Sese to come back the country two years after he obtained his PhD degree at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. But it was not until 2013 that the first steps toward PhilSA were taken, when scientists, researchers and other stakeholders convened to outline the scope of the Philippine Space Development Plan.

Since then, advocates of PhilSA, led by Sese, have been continuously talking to different government officials with the hope that someday the Philippines will be able to harness space technology to address some of the country’s most pressing challenges, from disaster risk reduction to agriculture, food security and climate change.

“I am relieved that [PhilSA] is finally coming into fruition. It’s not everyday that someone can say ‘I created a national space agency.’ But in the end, it’s not about what I have done to create PhilSA, but rather what PhilSA can do to help and improve our country and uplift the lives of our fellow Filipinos,” said Sese.

Sese shared that his entire journey with the PhilSA legislation felt like a retelling of an Andy William’s song, ‘The Impossible Dream.’ He said that many people doubted why he wanted to establish PhilSA in the past, but he believes his efforts are well worth it.

Facing reality

On the other hand, the PhilSA Bill found its champion in the Philippine Senate in outgoing Senator Bam Aquino, the chairperson of the Senate Science and Technology Committee. Aquino sponsored the Bill in the Senate and has been rallying for it to be passed since 2018.

“The Philippine Space Act, which establishes PhilSA, may seem intuitive at first. It immediately registers in people’s minds as ‘magkakaroon tayo ng sarili nating NASA’ [‘we’re going to have our own NASA’]. But explaining to what extent that would be true, and why that would be beneficial to Filipinos, requires layers of clarifications and discussions,” he said.

“The layered explanations and the level of scrutiny is always to be expected of science and technology legislation. After all, the potential benefits of science and technology are far-reaching and are bound to touch a myriad of perennial issues our country face,” said Aquino.

During his tenure as Senate Science and Technology Committee Chairperson, he has worked closely with scientists, especially representatives from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), in crafting legislation that will help address the sector’s challenges. Apart from the PhilSA Bill, one of the laws he helped pass was the Balik Scientist Act, a law that seeks to provide incentives for Filipino scientists based abroad to return to the Philippines.

He has also authored the amendment to the current Magna Carta for Scientists Law. The amendment calls for the removal of the honoraria limit for science and technology workers in their funded projects.

Apart from that, he has also authored an Philippine Startup Act which seeks to provide an enabling environment for startups in the country. The law is currently awaiting finalization of the rules and regulations of its implementation before it is passed.

Passing on the baton

However, as Aquino’s term ends in June 2019, he is counting on the next batch of senators to continuously support science-related initiatives.

“I wish to emphasize the need for the members of the 18th Congress to monitor and sustain the support for science and technology programs that we have already passed in the 17th Congress,” he said.

Aquino also said that science and technology continue to be woven into his advocacies on issues of agriculture, medium and small enterprises, microfinance, education, internet and telecommunication services, environment, transportation and disaster risk reduction, among others.

“Wherever the next few years would bring me, the Filipino people can trust that I will always champion the pivotal role of science and technology in every aspect of our national development,” he said.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Rogel Mari Sese/Bam Aquino.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Shai Panela is an award-winning freelance science journalist based in the Philippines. She was part of the Asian Science Journalism fellowship program of the World Federation of Science Journalists in 2013 and covers stories in science, health, technology and the environment.

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