Senate on track to approve bill on PH space program

The Senate has signified its intend to strengthen the country’s space program by approving a bill on second reading which seeks to establish the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA).

The Diwata-1, the first micro-satellite of the Philippines

SBN 1983, otherwise known as an “Act Establishing the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy and Creating the Philippine Space Agency”, was introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV and Loren Legarda.

Aquino, who sponsored the bill, 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 also 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.

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 the 1996, a Filipino private firm, Mabuhay Satellite Corporation, 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 satellite, Agila 2, which 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.

Insufficient funding and lack of a centralized agency to manage the space program has hindered the development of space technology in the country. Currently, several agencies under the Department of Science and Technology maintain the country’s space program. Other government departments also implement various space-related activities for agriculture, environment, communications, transportation and security.

If enacted into law, the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy stated in SBN 1983 would serve as the Philippines strategic roadmap for space development. Aquino hopes the proposed legislation would propel the Philippines to be space-capable in the next decade.

Under the bill, initial funding for the space program in the amount of P1 billion will be taken 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 Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) 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.

“A solid space program can improve disaster management, enhance the lives of Filipino farmers, speed up our internet and telecommunications systems and help us build better, more livable cities,” Aquino said.

“Let us continue to dream big for our country and let us never tire of finding better solutions for our countrymen,” he added.

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