The removal of Dr. Prisco Nilo as director of the PAGASA due to “differences” with  his “immediate superior” shows that the current government would rather fire the messsenger than upgrade the bureau’s capacity to prepare for typhoons and disasters.

If government continues to blame the scientists instead of providing funds to upgrade their measurements, the brain drain that has gone on for so long will be difficult to reverse.

Patriotic scientists who have opted to stay on despite low wages, general lack of research and development funds and local opportunities will be driven off instead of being useful to national development.

Nilo becomes President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s scapegoat for the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and his government’s being unable to respond correctly to the recent typhoon.

Dr. Nilo’s removal was some three weeks after Aquino publicly scolded the weather bureau for failing to predict that typhoon Basyang would pass over Metro Manila. Saying that Nilo “never really bothered to explain” why Typhoon Basyang moved in a different direction shows how the president and the NDCC understands typhoon preparedness.

There are two sides to this coin. The first requires us to understand the nature of typhoons. Typhoons are really large masses of air that are spinning and moving over land and sea. Much like a spinning top will be affected by the surface it is moving on, typhoons can change course depending on the local conditions of its landfall and other nearby weather systems. The predicted course given by PAGASA is obtained from an initial prediction from mathematical models which is then updated to take into account possible changes. The bulletins are then corrected and reissued every six hours. The predicted course is thus useful within the accuracy and precision that their models and updates can give.

One should only expect accuracy within the capability of the measuring device. To require more from PAGASA, the president should have asked what equipment and human resources is needed instead of putting blame on its department head.

In preparing for a typhoon, especially one that is covering a large area and strong winds, it is therefore not just a matter of alerting one region but ramping up the disaster readiness for the adjoining regions and cities as well. If PAGASA has pointed out that Central Luzon will be along the main path of the typhoon earlier in the day, the NDCC could have been prudent enough to alert Metro Manila and adjoining areas as well.

NDCC should have been more proactive in asking for updates instead of waiting for PAGASA to update their bulletin. PAGASA can tap the wealth of information that is available from nearby countries and websites to add to their models and predictions to generate more frequent bulletins.

Government should fully tap the potential of local scientific community by providing more research and development funds, better opportunities and jobs as well as adequate compensation. One way to do this is to embark on a program to build local industries for domestic production where our scientists and engineers can fully realize their skills.#


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