Press Release
March 15, 2010


When typhoon Ondoy hit Metro Manila last September -- devastating lives and livelihood, destroying infrastructure and wiping out the gains we had made in modernizing our cities - the issue of climate change adaption was suddenly catapulted to national attention.

Needless to say, we were caught unprepared by the storm. The disaster became the impetus to assess the current capabilities of government and private institutions to forecast weather, send out reliable warnings, and to ultimately prepare and rehabilitate the populace upon the onset and aftermath of such events.

Our work in the Bicameral Congressional Commission on Science & Technology and Engineering (or COMSTE) centers on boosting our country's competitiveness and streamlining our innovation systems. This covers a broad spectrum of things: delivering basic services like education and training, providing support systems for the agricultural and rural sectors, improving health care delivery to the poor and far-flung areas, and beefing up our country's disaster management capacity. All of these have a common denominator: technology.

The title of this conference is "Engineering Resilience". Resilience, by definition, is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. How does a country become resilient?

We cannot spring back from disaster by applying orthodox, archaic ways. Resilience requires us to adopt new thinking, new design and methodology.

Today's challenges require design thinkers, good builders and architects. People with vision and foresight. People who see constraints and turn them into potentials. People who can do more with less. People who look at ordinary things and turn them extraordinary.

The work of COMSTE is precisely that - to identify innovative solutions to current challenges like energy, food security, health care delivery, human capital development, infrastructure and disaster mitigation.

Today, we focus on that last aspect, disaster management. Achieving competitiveness, in an environment extremely altered and pushed to the limit by human neglect, requires us to look into our capability to withstand natural calamities and deal with the risks and vulnerabilities brought about by climate change.

It is estimated that climate change can result in economic losses up to 3% of GDP[1]. However, poor nations like the Philippines stand to lose more--mainly due to a lack of resilience--and natural disasters can eat up more than 10% of our GDP[2].

From the Ondoy and Pepeng disasters last year, we suffered a death toll of 956, losses and rebuilding cost estimates of a staggering USD4.38 billion or more than 200 billion pesos[3]. With the prolonged drought brought by El Niño, our agriculture sector stands to lose 152 million pesos and expected to reach 8-10 billion[4]. It has also threatened the Philippines energy, with energy production dropping because our dams and other hydroelectric power sources are drying up.

Like I said, we need a shift in attitude and thinking to build the physical infrastructure of the country so that we are able to cope with disaster.

Our experience with Ondoy and Pepeng and the unprecedented flooding in Metro Manila is a good exercise for innovative thinking. The heavy waterfall from the Sierra Madre could not be contained in the Marikina River and could not flow into the Manila Bay, which is its natural reservoir. Pasig River was blocked by siltation. The first solution to flooding, therefore, is to de-silt Laguna de Bay and open up Pasig River so that water from Sierra Madre would not overflow Metro Manila. That would be the common sense solution.

In contrast, there is a proposal being foisted on us to go back to the 1970s solution of digging a canal between Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, to be built in Paranaque and Las Pinas. In the 1970s, these cities were uninhabited. Today, they are concrete jungle with thousands of residents and establishments. Digging a massive canal will displace all of them. This is what I mean by orthodox, archaic and poor thinking that we should remove from our mindset.

Good design and good thinking can transform the world by inspiring innovation. The best designers match necessity to utility, barriers to possibility, and need to demand.

This project on disaster mitigation began as an offshoot of another project that marries information and communication technologies (ICT) and agriculture. Using ICT, we wanted to create an information system that will give farmers the latest market data, decision-making support, and crisis assistance. The idea is to leverage our technical expertise and wide telecommunications infrastructure in raising farmers' productivity, helping us achieve food security.

Using the same existing ICT infrastructure - plus collaborations for satellite data and our own local expertise in analysis and modeling - we can use the same scheme in disaster preparedness. It all comes down to need for our government to have science-driven and science-based decision making and policy support.

This is why in the 2010 General Appropriations Act, as chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, I provided for 100 Million Pesos to build the Philippine Disaster Science Center, and almost 40 million for the Disaster Management Training Center in Aurora Province. These new institutions will not only provide accurate science for forecasting and modeling, but also to provide training to local governments and private institutions for disaster response and management.

With extreme weather becoming the norm rather than the exception, we can no longer afford to have weak disaster preparedness systems. ICT will be a vital cog in our disaster management efforts. And despite just 75% and 14% penetration rates for cellular phone[5] and internet[6], respectively, the use of ICT in our country has already begun to change.

Where before, these services were mostly for personal communication alone, we have seen lately the amazing response by the private sector using internet services to coordinate and plan rescue and relief operations during the height of the storm. Rescue and relief operations get real-time updates through the popular social networking sites, for example, and free software available over the Internet has aided in mapping the worst of the disaster areas, and updated immediately on those in need of rescue and succor.

A 2007 study by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology Development on ICT for Disaster Management has concluded that "ICTs are not just commercial tools for business; they play a much larger role in protecting the well-being of the general population[7]".

ICTs, therefore, with their far-reaching uses and impacts, is the technology of the future and is a key issue in development. ICTs' role in disaster management, especially in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, is invaluable for "communications under emergency situations, collecting essentials for the victims, and for purposes of national and international funding[8]." This is exactly how it happened here in our country when Ondoy struck. Everyone who has Facebook and Twitter account knows how the sites helped in the deployment of relief and rescue operations.

I believe that there are whole worlds of uses for ICTs that we have yet to explore. And despite the huge role it played in our response and recovery missions, imagine what more it could do for our typhoon-prone country if we harness this technology for prevention and mitigation.

The objective of our conference today is to put together a resolution on disaster resilience, which will serve two purposes: (1) as a resolution, it is hoped that it can provide policy direction for future laws; and (2) as a survey of available tools and technologies from all over the world, it is hoped that the document can also serve as a draft architecture of the Philippine Disaster Science Center, as well as the Disaster Management Training Center in Aurora Province.

It will become the basis for further legislative and executive action, so that finally we can begin truly rebuilding the nation with sound science as our foundation guiding our policy and decision makers.

Our ultimate goal is to rebuild livable and sustainable cities: Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. We envision cities that are propelled by extraordinary technological innovation, whose vibrancy and resilience are a magnet for investment and production.

Let us therefore take this opportunity then to plan well and set the groundwork for disaster-proofing our country through good thinking, good design and innovation.

Thank you very much.


[1] John Llewellyn. The Business of Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities. Lehman Brothers, 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cheryl Arcibal, GMA News Special Report. Ondoy and Pepeng losses next only to Aceh tsunami. 02 December 2009. Accessed 11 March 2010.

[4] report. Accessed 11 March 2010.

[5] Roderick T. dela Cruz, "Mobile phone penetration rate topped 75% last year." Manila Standard, 05 March 2009 ( Accessed 19 May 2009.

[6] Internet penetration rate discounts users through internet cafés, hot spots, etc.

Source: Internet World Stats (, data in 2007. Accessed 19 May 2009.

[7] Wattegama, Chanuka. ICT for Disaster Management. UNDP-Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP) and Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology Development (APCICT), 2007.

[8] Ibid.

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