Two steps forward, one step back. This best describes the Philippines at present, always at the brink of explosive growth that never quite ignites; always the country with so much potential, and yet lagging behind its once closest comparisons.
Events of late have exposed our extreme vulnerabilities.
The number of disasters from natural hazards in the country surged 50% last year, making the Philippines the world’s worst disaster-hit country in 2011. These disasters from natural hazards cost the Philippines 26 billion pesos and displaced a record number of 15.3 million people. Even these figures cannot capture the long-term cost to the people and communities that bear the brunt of disasters, paying with their lives and livelihoods.
On the other hand, everyday disasters abound. According to an SWS survey in December 2011, 4.5 million families were experiencing involuntary hunger. We remain plagued not only by unemployment and underemployment, but also environmental threats that will ultimately affect livelihoods. Continued degradation of our coral reefs is decreasing the productivity of our fishing industry. Even more threats to our food supply came in the form of massive fishkills in Laguna, Leyte, and South Cotabato. In one incident in South Cotabato alone, 49 tons of fish were found floating dead.
With each disaster that we allow to happen in our environment, in our communities, Filipinos are dragged even deeper into poverty. With each disaster, money from government coffers that ought to be used to reduce poverty, support rural livelihoods, provide universal primary education, and improve the health of women and children is diverted to relief, reconstruction, and rehabilitation.
We, as decision makers, must make intelligent policies and rethink our approaches to protecting our gains from the impacts of disasters and climate change. As a nation at risk, we must act more swiftly, more wisely, and more decisively. Fortunately, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is setting us on the right path.
The theme of this year’s National Science and Technology week, “Science, Technology and Innovation: Working Together for Growth and Development,” aptly stresses that it is high time to utilize science, technology, and innovation to transform the Philippines into a country not just of potential but of actual success.
The DOST has been tireless in providing solutions that address the country’s pressing challenges in environmental sustainability, jobs and livelihoods, rural development, and disaster resilience.
The brilliant scientists we will give due recognition to today dedicated their lives to solving our most pressing problems. They serve as an inspiration to all Filipinos, especially to us, your public servants. They remind us to keep searching for the best possible strategies, no matter how overwhelming the odds.
Allow me to highlight an ensuing challenge, that of sustaining our ecological diversity, the very foundation of life on Earth.
The way we have lived in the past decades and our failure to protect our natural resources, mainly due to a lack of concern and now the threats of climate change, has caused more stress on our already threatened biodiversity and deteriorating environment. It has been forecasted that about 30% of all species will face a high risk of extinction if global mean temperatures exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Philippines, located within the Coral Triangle, is home to 76 percent of the world’s coral species and over 2000 marine species. But according to the UP Marine Science Institute, only five percent of the country's coral reefs remain in good condition.
To address this challenge the Department of Science and Technology, through the leadership of Secretary Mario G. Montejo, has spearheaded the Filipinnovation on Coral Restoration Program. It is a program that will not only restore the beauty of our reefs and rehabilitate life; it will also improve the competitiveness of the tourism industry through a public-private-academe partnership.
Reefs are, foremost, complex ecosystems that are vital to the continuity of life in the sea. They protect coastlines from wave and storm erosion and function as nurseries and habitats for thousands of marine species. They are ultimately connected to mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and countless other ecosystems.
The destruction of our marine ecosystems will not only lead to the extinction of thousands of species but will also be detrimental to tourism, food supply, and sustenance and livelihood of our fisherfolk.
The Filipinnovation on Coral Restoration Program gained milestones in both the asexual and sexual reproduction of corals, setting up pilot areas in several locations across the country where coral beds are being rehabilitated as we speak. These pilot areas are located in Aurora, Zambales, Masbate, Bohol, Aklan, and Tawi-Tawi.
Imagine if at least 80% of the deteriorating corals in our country could only be resuscitated by this program. Imagine, this would actually be the best poverty-alleviation measure which will supply food for almost 100 million Filipinos.
In the field of aquaculture, I laud the Department’s efforts to develop “Superfarms” and an early warning system for freshwater fishkill. “Superfarms” aim to increase the quality and quantity of our yield in shrimp and milkfish and make them more competitive in local and international markets. A new species of shrimp was introduced to the local variety to improve existing stock, while technologies that can be used to develop efficient and environment-friendly milkfish production systems are being developed.
The early warning system prototype, on the other hand, will help prevent the extensive damages in livelihood by predicting freshwater fishkill one week before its actual occurrence. These efforts will go a long way in promoting viable livelihood for our fisherfolk, ensuring food self-sufficiency and addressing poverty in the countryside.
But amidst the complex problems that the country faces, the biggest and worst by far are the disasters turbocharged by climate change. The role of science, technology, and innovation in confronting this clearly manifests itself in the recently launched and, I must say, creatively named, Project NOAH.
The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or NOAH, a map which can be accessed through a real-time information website, is a welcome development in making the country disaster-resilient. As it shows information coming from rain gauges and Doppler radars stationed around the country, it will be an effective tool for disaster risk information and early warning dissemination. We have high hopes for Project NOAH, as it aims to provide high-resolution flood hazard maps and monitor 18 major river basins within the next two years. I strongly urge local government units, especially those in vulnerable communities, to use this new weather and flood alert technology.
This technology perfectly complements the several workshops we have organized with the DILG’s Local Government Academy and AECID, the Spanish government’s cooperation agency, in building LGU alliances along major river basins.
These workshops, the latest of which was in Bicol, are aimed at creating awareness about what continued environmental degradation and the lack of disaster preparedness in areas surrounding the river basins will result in. We aim to lay the foundation for a successful collaboration among local executives and stakeholders towards effective river basin management through shared knowledge, coordinated actions, and the promotion of best practices.
Evidently, the government must continue to support Filipino scientists in developing life- and livelihood-saving technologies. It will need to increase recognition of the relevance of research and development while fusing scientific knowledge, innovation, and policy-making. Programs based on scientific research and innovation can change lives by averting disasters, safeguarding jobs, incomes, and livelihoods, enhancing food supply, promoting environmental sustainability, and combating poverty. Through science, our cities will be planned better, our farmers and fisherfolk will be more adequately supported, our people will live in a healthier and safer environment, and our economic growth will finally start to benefit all. I have no doubt that our scientists will be able to find bold and sustainable solutions.
In closing, I enjoin you, fellow public servants, to hold true to the mandate we have been given and continue what we have begun with renewed inspiration and a sense of urgency. Let us make sure that we will achieve genuine growth and development through the indispensable triad of science, technology, and innovation. No more two steps forward, one step back; let us find the sustainable way to march ever forward.
Thank you and good morning.