by: Maverick Russel Flores
During last year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Aquino enjoined the nation in his cause to “foster, accelerate and expand the transformation of society.” But as the Departments of Science & Technology (DOST) and Transportation & Communication (DOTC) find themselves in a race to erase shortcomings and produce results, the chief executive might have fallen short in revving up the engines for a better nation.
Aquino set a fast pace for development in his last SONA and he wants it evident on disaster preparedness. He gave ample attention to measures such as the National Operational Assessment of Hazards (Project NOAH).
Created by the science department under Secretary Mario Montejo in 2012, its mandate was to enhance geo-hazard vulnerability maps, which pinpointed areas most prone to flooding. The maps were expected to provide a six-hour lead time warning for citizens of certain danger areas, according to the project’s website.
During last year’s SONA, Aquino boasted that multi-hazard mapping of 28 of the most vulnerable areas, and of 496 municipalities and cities were finished. He envisioned that those of 1,138 more areas in the country will be completed by 2015. 525 water level monitoring stations were also installed in 18 major river basins since 2012.
As it celebrates its second-year anniversary, NOAH now showcases flood hazard maps for 5,060 barangays and villages nationwide, reports said. These maps helped in identifying areas that are safe to establish evacuation centers on.
NOAH also paved the way for Weather Information-Integration for System Enhancement (WISE), which enables the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) to forecast what the weather will be 7 days in advance. It is also envisioned to soon predict seasonal weather from 6 months ahead.
These weather-forecast advancements, however, will not be as useful if not for developments in PAGASA’s equipment. Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) helped the bureau to acquire high-quality Doppler radars and set up Doppler radar stations in Iloilo, Zamboanga and Busuanga in Palawan, said PAGASA acting administrator Vicente Malano in a Philippine Star report.
These acquisitions—plus the enhancement of their research facilities and training for weather and climate predictions—reportedly improved PAGASA’s forecast accuracy, especially during the onslaught of Typhoons Yolanda and, more recently, Glenda.
“If not for DAP and if not for PAGASA’s restored credibility, a colossal typhoon like Typhoon Glenda could have been deadly for a lot of people. It’s good that our people now believe in PAGASA’s weather forecasts,” Malano said.
As PAGASA aimed for the sky, DOST tinkers with another Aquino-encouraged project inside the nation’s flagship university.
As early as his 2011 SONA, Aquino pushed for the development of the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT), an emission-free, electricity-powered elevated train system that runs on two parallel beams. Aquino brandished the project as the solution to the country’s mass transportation problems, and “could result in more kilometers of cheap transport, decongesting urban centers and allowing rural communities easier access to centers of commerce and industry.”
In April 2013, he, along with Montejo and UP President Alfredo Pascual, rode the now working prototype that sprawls inside UP Diliman. Aquino called out DOST to even the suspension system and bumps on the tracks, for the comfort of UP students and professors.
There is a hasty demand for such developments, though, as transport in Metro Manila grows into an even more bumpy situation.
In last year’s SONA, Aquino pushed for a fare hike for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT), to alleviate the government subsidy on the cost of maintaining and operating Metro Manila’s current mass transit systems.
“Perhaps it is only reasonable for us to move the fares of the MRT and LRT closer to the fares of air-conditioned buses, so that the government subsidy for the MRT and LRT can be used for other social services,” Aquino said.
Recent events, however, call for more government attention on the transits’ maintenance.
Over the last months, the MRT 3, used to serving 600,000 passengers daily, was a picture of long lines and frustratingly waiting passengers. On March 22, 2014, the signal system flopped for Ayala and Buendia stations, stopping all trains from passing through and operations for hours. Mis-signaling occurred again two days later, and one such incident in March 26 reportedly caused a train to abruptly stop, injuring dozens of passengers.
Faulty signal systems were not the only problem for MRT. In fact, reports said that aside from faltering maintenance, broken track segments were only replaced by “cannibalized” parts from the parking depot, and broken windshields fixed just by spraying sealant. And as for the bumpy ride, the tires and the tracks were apparently no longer grinded.
Former MRT 3 general manager Al Vitangcol III also indicated in April that all of the 73 14-year-old trains were fully operational, yet at least eight trams a week, and six more for longer periods, reports said.
It doesn’t help, too, that Vitangcol might have awarded the 10-month maintenance contract in 2012 to PH Trams in favor of an undeclared relationship with one of its board members—his uncle-in-law, Arturo V. Soriano. This allegation reportedly pushed DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya into sacking Vitangcol.
But it’s not only the MRT’s wheels that need grinding.
On May 28, 2014, the Senate called a hearing on “the impact of slow and expensive internet.” During the hearing, Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV cited the United Nations report recognizing the Internet as a human right; yet Senator Loren Legarda, in front of major telecommunication companies Smart and Globe, complained about her either slow or absent internet at her home and office, even after paying costly fees.
Legarda also indicated that Singapore only charges P1,300 for 15 Mbps internet speeds, and Thailand only P1,100 for 12 Mbps—while the Philippines charges P1,000 for our speed average of 2.0 Mbps.
With the World Bank stating that 36.2% of Filipinos are internet users, the demand for faster internet continues to be a pressing issue. Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto responded by filing Senate Bill 2238, which aims to mandate a minimum Internet speed of 10.0 Mbps on local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Until this is implemented, though, Filipinos will continue to lag behind other Asian countries in Internet speeds, as indicated in a recent online infographic.
Developments have taken place, improvements have been realized. But so long as Aquino patronizes his “tuwid na daan,” the picture will not ever be complete unless these bumps are evened.
In this light, however, this year’s SONA must not be mere praises and woes—the man in power must propose firm and immediate resolve. The Palace is done setting the pace last year—it’s time to assess the progress, and assure results.