What could P200M do in a weather bureau?-A A +A
Friday, September 6, 2013
MANILA -- The national weather agency’s budget has been reduced for the first time in five years.
From P1.46 billion in 2013, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) will have to operate on P1.26 billion. This was based on the deliberations of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations in August on the 2014 budget.
An earlier news report cited the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Development (CPBRD) that the 14-percent slash in the funds is due to the reduction in the capital outlay and the decrease in the personnel services allocation of the agency. Read the related story: "Government slashes weather bureau budget."
For a state weather agency like Pagasa, a P200-million (US$4.49 million) budget cut would mean two less Doppler radars, around 2,000 new automatic weather stations, or an annual gross salary of P240,000 of close to 850 employees.
There are currently 11 Doppler radars all over the country, from Baguio City in the north to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur in the south. A Doppler radar looks out for possible precipitation as they calculate the amount of droplets and study the motions of clouds by sending out and receiving pulses or sound waves. Each radar covers a radius of 240 kilometers (km), giving information on the location of a cyclone, the amount of rainfall it contains, among others. But this range can be extended up to 480 km during extreme weather conditions.
Pagasa information officer Venus Valdemoro said in a phone interview, that by 2015, the country should have 15, just enough to cover the entire archipelago. The weather bureau has finished bidding out the last three radars that would complete the 15 in two years. Pagasa also employs close to 900 individuals all over the country.
Meanwhile, Mon Agustin, a planning officer at Pagasa, and also the president of the Pagasa Weathermen Employees Association (PWEA), said in a phone interview that Pagasa did not propose for an incremental budget for the following year. They have already finished purchasing the equipment they need and they could work on a smaller budget.
Aside from the 11 Doppler radars, Pagasa also has more than 150 automatic weather stations spread all over the country to add with hundreds of automatic water level sensors and automatic rain gauges.
For a country visited by an average of 20 cyclones a year, equipment for better accuracy and redundancy is necessary, a news report said.
Meanwhile, the reduced budget will place further demands on the already stretched organization, which has lost a fifth of its staff since 2002 and struggles to pay its staff their Magna Carta benefits.
The Magna Carta benefits include longevity pay, hazard pay, and subsistence allowance as mandated by Republic Act 8349 or the Magna Carta for Science and Technology Workers.
As of 2012, Pagasa employs 867 individuals from 1,137 in 2002 and the number of employees continues to fall. Earlier this year, two weathermen of the bureau have already left their posts, forecaster Ricky Fabregas and Pagasa administrator Nathaniel Servando. Both have accepted employment opportunities abroad. One of the reasons they cited for leaving the agency is the higher pay and better living condition that the other countries can provide.
Agustin said what worries Pagasa workers more is the provision for their Magna Carta benefits as stated in the law.
For 2014, the House committee on appropriations allotted a total of P500 million for the Magna Carta benefits of the Department of Science and Technology together with its 26 attached agencies. An amount, according to Agustin, that is only half of what the entire science community needs.
Should this amount not be enough to pay all the science and technology workers, each agency will have to request for an additional fund to be approved by the Department of Budget and Management.
Agustin said, Pagasa alone needs P100 million to adequately distribute the Magna Carta benefits that they receive every six months. He also said their Magna Carta benefits are just "cushion" for all the needs they have to cover with their meager compensation.
At the end of the day, he said, this could be part of the reason why someone will leave their agency again.
(Shaira Panela is the Assistant Manila Editor of Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) and a mentee under Nicky Phillips of Sydney Morning Herald for the Science Journalism Cooperation (SjCoop) in Asia)