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Philippines On Verge Of Creating National Space Agency After Key Legislation Introduced

The Philippines as photographed from the International Space Station. Photograph courtesy of the European Space Agency.

The Philippines is on the verge of creating its own national space agency after a prominent Filipino politician sponsored legislation in the Senate plenary of Senate Bill 1983, or the “Act Establishing the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy and Creating the Philippine Space Agency, and for other Purposes,” earlier in September 2018.

The legislation was co-authored by Senators Loren B. Legarda and Vicente C. Sotto III, together with the Committees on Science and Technology and Finance. The bill is also known as the Philippine Space Act.

“Though it took a long time, we are one step closer to establishing our own Philippine Space Agency and our Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy,” said Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, an astrophysicist and senior Filipino space official.

A national space programme in the Philippines “can improve disaster management, enhance the lives of Filipino farmers, speed up our Internet and telecommunication systems, and help us build more livable cities,” said Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV, the sponsor of the legislation.

The Philippines can better utilize the space domain “by addressing and improving our national security, disaster management, communication, agriculture, environmental monitoring, science, industry and transportation through the Philippine Space Act,” added Dr. Sese.

The Philippine Space Act intends to formalize the use of space in order to safeguard national territories and sovereignty, as well as “to support and commit to the development, application and utilization of science and technology that will foster patriotism and nationalism, and accelerate social progress.”

Additionally, the Philippine Space Act characterizes a national space agency as “a sovereign right in the promotion of national security toward the attainment and protection of national interest,” and that such an agency will have to create a national space strategy in order “to keep up with other nations in terms of space science and technology.” The latter point perhaps being a reference to the intensifying geopolitical competition taking place in Southeast Asia with the rise of China as a regional hegemon.

Reiterating that point, Dr. Sese said that, “In this day and age, developing countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh are already venturing into using space capabilities to address various socioeconomic issues.”

“We hope that after Senator Aquino’s sponsorship of the PhilSA [Philippine Space Act] bill in the Senate plenary, it will be similarly discussed in the plenary of the House  [of Representatives]. We hope our legislators, together with other agencies and the general public, would support and prioritize the passage of this crucial and timely bill,” Dr. Sese said, explaining the legislative process for the creation of a national space agency.

“The Congress [House] version was recently passed by the Committee on Appropriations and is currently being scheduled for plenary discussion,” Dr. Sese added, explaining the status of the House Bill 3637, which was introduced by Representatives Erico Aristotle Aumentado and Seth Frederick Jalosjos in 2016.

“If these bills are passed by both houses, they can proceed to the bicameral legislative [committee] and then, finally, to the president,” Dr. Sese explained.

Once the legislation is sent to President Duterte he has 30 days to sign it into law. Dr. Sese believes that this may well happen before the end of 2018.

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