In Response to the DOST Press Release

The issue about NOAH all began when Dr. Lagmay was quoted in an interview with DZRH that Project NOAH is ending on 28 February 2017 “dahil wala nang pondo” (because there are no more funds).  The absence of funding is due to the intent of DOST to terminate the project despite its success given the response of the people. The announcement on the termination of Project NOAH is a statement of fact but was given political color, which should not be the case because the NOAH program is an effort that concerns the lives of all Filipino people.

In our official statement, we thanked the DOST for allowing us to take part in creating a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation and the opportunity to serve the Filipino people through DOST – Project NOAH.  We also thanked the Filipino people and all those in the DRR community for their continued support to all our endeavors. As part of the University of the Philippines, we ended our statement with the promise that without hesitation, we will respond when called again by the DOST and Disaster Risk Reduction agencies for assistance (see official statement of Project NOAH on its termination).

When Dr. Lagmay accepted the request by DOST in 2012 to head Project NOAH (former name was NFHM2 – National Hazards Monitoring and Mitigation Program), he knew that it was a difficult task because the disaster arena is full of politics. As a scientist, this was entering into uncharted territory. Despite this, he accepted the request because there was something that the academe could do to help in the Disaster Risk Reduction efforts of the country. However, there was one condition he proposed in accepting the request – to remain with the University of the Philippines. It was for two very important reasons: 1) DOST Bicutan was very far from home and he didn’t want to spend half the work day traveling; 2) UP shields their faculty from politics.

Under the special order, Dr. Lagmay was given the task to integrate projects funded by the DOST. The NOAH program itself formally has no funding. Projects under the NOAH program are the ones that are funded.  Initially, there were three projects and by 2016 it had grown into 20 projects implemented by various Research and Development Institutes (RDI). The collective efforts of these institutions are what we know as the NOAH Program. These projects with their corresponding implementing agencies are the following:

 

Projects under the NOAH and extended NOAH programs

Project Implementing Agency/Institute
DREAM (Disaster Risk and Exposure and Assessment for Mitigation) LiDAR TCGAP, UP Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines
Landslide (Enhancing Philippine landslide hazard maps with LIDAR and high-resolution imageries) UP National Institute of Geological Sciences, College of Science
Storm Surge (Storm Surge Inundation Mapping of Philippine Coastal Areas) PAGASA
FloodNet (ClimateX) UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (Project Leader Dr. CP David)
StratComm (Strategic Communications Intervention for the NOAH Program) DOST-STII
WISE  (Weather Information-Integration for Systems Enhancement) UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology
Dynaslope/Senslope PHIVOLCS
WebGIS (Disaster Management Using WebGIS) UP National Institute of Geological Sciences
Sensors DOST-ASTI
Emergency Hard Hit Areas DOST-ASTI
Phil-Lidar 1 (Hazard Mapping of the Philippines using LiDAR) TCGAP, UP Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines
Phil-Lidar 2 (Detailed Resources Assessment using LiDAR) TCGAP, UP Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines
Cravat (Coastal Resource) National Institute of Physics
SMARTER Visayas (Implementing a Satellite-based Monitoring and Assessment of Rehabilitation in Typhoon-effected Regions) TCGAP, UP Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines
CoARE (Computing and Archiving Research Environment) DOST-ASTI
PEDRO (satellite receiving stations) DOST-ASTI
Drought UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology
MICROSAT (Diwata-1 and Diwata-2) DOST-ASTI, UP-EEE, TCGAP, UP Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines,  UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology
Hybrid/EWS (Emergency Distribution of Hydrometeorological Devices in Hard-hit Areas in the Philippines [HYDROMET], Development of Hybrid Weather Monitoring System and Production of Weather and Rain Automated Stations [AWS]) DOST-ASTI
ISAIAH (Integrated Scenario-based Assessment of Impacts and Hazards) UP National Institute of Geological Sciences

 

All of these projects are meaningful projects for the Disaster Risk Reduction Program of the Philippines.  These 20 projects become more meaningful if they are integrated.  The integration program is called the NOAH program and is done at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines.  NOAH shares and analyzes information with NDDRMC as part of the Pre-Disaster Risk Assessment Core Group (PDRA), empowers the LGUs through the NOAH website and mobile tools, and teaches the communities on how to use these technologies and science information. Moreover, NOAH is written in textbooks of the K-12 program, which requires support in a never-ending manner unless the curriculum is changed.

The responsibility for sharing the respective outputs of the 20 programs to PAGASA is with the respective project leaders (Program leader in the case of DREAM, Phil-LIDAR and Phil-LIDAR 2) and controlled by DOST. Dr. Lagmay cannot turn over what he does not have because the other 17 funded activities are not his projects. Out of the 20, 3 were directly under Lagmay’s supervision as a project leader. These 3 projects, implemented by UP-NIGS (National Institute of Geological Sciences), where he holds office, represent only 3% of the total budget of the 20 projects under the NOAH program.

The entire program therefore can’t be transferred wholesale because it is run by many institutions and agencies.  To transfer all of them or even parts of them would be too much to ask for PAGASA because of the volume of work and manpower needed to operate all of the 20 projects because they are fully multidisciplinary. To say that the entire NOAH program will be absorbed by PAGASA is untenable with an additional 15 personnel to be accommodated as promised by DOST.

In the press release of DOST on Sunday, February 3, 2017, the article closed with the statement, “Young and highly trained scientists must also be encouraged to join government service. Holding back on the expected delivery or even promise of technology and knowledge transfer is denying the Filipino people of better weather forecasting and disaster risk assessment services.”

 The statement on “holding back” hurts the scientists and researchers working at the University of the Philippines. The work of Dr. Lagmay and his team at the National Institute of Geological Sciences where integration activities are implemented comprise only 3% of the entire NOAH program in terms of the total budget.  The NOAH scientists believe in Open Data and people empowerment and have been working hard to deliver the output of all the projects under NOAH, free of charge, viewable and downloadable in the NOAH website (noah.dost.gov.ph).  To say that we are holding back expected deliveries, technology and knowledge misleads the Filipino people.

In addition, Dr. Lagmay can organize and train a science team that will build the technologies and products for a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation but he can’t direct or hold back the decision on how the UP research scientists want to proceed with their careers.

In the meeting on February 1 with Dr. C.P. David, Executive Director of DOST – PCIEERD (Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development), Dr. Lagmay offered to change the name of the NOAH website to pagasa.dost.gov.ph.  This was the same offer he gave in the meeting on 26 November 2016 with PAGASA and DOST officials. It is also the same proposal he gave more than 2 years ago.  However, Dr. C.P. David was not able to commit the change of name during the 2 meetings held in 28 November 2016 and 1 February 2017. This, we can’t understand because DOST in their latest press statement wants NOAH absorbed by PAGASA (The two meetings have tape recordings).

Real, effective change has often met resistance from those entrenched in the status quo. The innovative, scientific tools and approach brought about by NOAH has significantly contributed to the improvement of the nation’s DRRM efforts. This is mirrored by the public attention and concern regarding the continuation of the NOAH program beyond the 28th of February 2017. We are a team of multidisciplinary scientists working at the University of the Philippines looking at our disaster problem from a new perspective to complement government efforts. We rely on each other’s expertise and experience and can’t function effectively when separated. We reiterate our willingness to work for our countrymen and we will respond without hesitation when called again to help in the country’s Disaster Risk Reduction efforts.

Note:  This response to the press release of DOST is made with the permission of Secretary Dela Pena after Dr. Lagmay emailed him about the veracity of DOST’s recent official statement on the termination of NOAH.

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