STARWEEK:  RAINY  DAYS  &  SUNDAYS

MANILA, NOVEMBER 10, 2008
(STARweek) By Sheila Crisostomo - Farmers in Infanta, Quezon are no longer sure when to plant or even what to plant. This is because in the last few years, the coming of the rainy season has changed, seriously affecting the crop cycle.

This change is referred to as “rainfall re-distribution,” and it is one of the phenomena that the Manila Observatory has noted about the country’s weather and climate patterns.

There are many other significant and disturbing patterns that the scientists at the Observatory have observed as they seek to construct a climate pattern from data gathered over the last 30 years. Using primarily the satellites of other countries like Japan, United States and France, the Observatory looks at several variables that can determine climate pattern of the world, part of a worldwide effort to study climate change, now considered the biggest threat to mankind.

“The variability is becoming more messed up. We cannot tell anymore what’s going to happen,” says Ma. Antonia Yulo Loyzaga, the Observatory’s director.

The Observatory is part of an Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that is mapping climate change in order to identify strategies to mitigate its geo-hazard impacts.

The Observatory also looks at greenhouse gasses, the primary culprit for climate change, by conducting an “inventory” for the whole country and coming up with ways to bring down emissions.

It maps out “hazards, exposures and vulnerability” to be able to formulate recommendations that can guide national and local leaders in coming up with preventive and impact-mitigation plans.

The Manila Observatory, a private non-profit scientific institution based at the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City, was established in 1865 by the Jesuit mission in the Philippines and has engaged in “systematic observation of Philippine weather.” Its first director was Fr. Federico Faura, who invented the first Philippine barometer.

“There’s a very long Jesuit tradition in astronomy,” Loyzaga boasts. She recalls that since the Observatory was capable of foretelling the onset of tropical storms, it was used by the Spanish colonial government to monitor typhoons in the Philippines.

“The Spanish knew that the Observatory had this ability. Before that, many ships that would come to Manila Bay and to other ports were being affected by typhoons which nobody knew were coming,” she adds.

In 1880, the Observatory expanded by doing earthquake observation. Four years later, the Spanish government issued a royal decree formally recognizing the Observatory as the official Philippine institution for weather forecasting.

And when the Americans arrived, the Observatory was once again appointed as the government’s weather bureau.

“The Observatory was the Pagasa of the Spanish and the American colonial governments… It’s a very long scientific apostolate in terms of the Jesuit tradition,” Loyzaga says. Pagasa is the Philippine Astronomical, Geophysical and Atmospheric Administration, the country’s weather bureau.

A study by Dr. Emmanuel Anglo, head of the Observatory’s Regional Climate Systems Program, on climate from 1945 to 2003 showed that tropical cyclones have increased in the Philippines.

“And not only have they increased in number, they have also increased in terms of extreme rainfall.” She points out that 38 percent of our annual rainfall now comes from tropical cyclones. Ironically, the United Nations Environment Programme has estimated that the Philippines lost five percent of its precipitation from 1990 to 1994.

“The decrease in rainfall is actually quite subtle but we have to look into its distribution. How much of that decreasing rainfall comes from regular patterns (and how much) from extreme events,” she says. It is worrisome that more and more of our total rainfall comes from typhoons, which is often destructive for agriculture, infrastructure and human life.

The Observatory has also found that rainfall is re-distributing, leading to situations like that in Infanta, Quezon which has upset the agricultural crop cycles.

This situation is similar in other countries in the Western Pacific region where the Philippines belongs. The region now experiences more rainfall and increased surface temperature that results in “more hot days and more warm nights.”

Loyzaga says that Dr. Anglo’s study further revealed that more typhoons are now crossing the Philippines, particularly the Visayas.

“Before typhoons would go up to Catanduanes and then Batanes, or they do not make landfall at all. Now, the typhoons are going down to the Visayas.”

In contrast, Mindanao has been suffering from dry spells because of the El Nińo phenomenon. “Among the things we continuously look at are issues that have to do with water supply… Because rainfall is changing, it looks like there might be a prolonged period of less and less water in Mindanao.”

She had wanted to become a doctor but could not come to terms with chemistry. So from her Biology pre-med course at the Ateneo, she shifted to a totally unrelated course – Political Science.

“I shifted because organic chemistry did not like me,” says Loyzaga. She could not “appreciate” the subject and knew it was “not fair to the scientists.”

“Even though I passed it academically, I could not really get chemistry. So I told myself maybe I’m not meant for medicine,” relates this unintentional climate expert, who is married to Chito Loyzaga, the basketball superstar of the 80’s known as “The Dynamite.” They have three children.

Right after graduation, she went to Washington D.C. to take up a graduate course in Government and International Studies at Georgetown University.

There is an almost 20-year gap between these academic courses and Ateneo’s Manila Observatory where Loyzaga now serves as director, the second Filipino and the only woman to have assumed the prestigious position.

In that interim, she worked in a Philippine commercial bank where “I thought I was going to do corporate planning for the bank,” but found herself working as a teller and doing general services, micro-filming, among other things.

“So I had training in banking… Somehow, I am thankful for that,” she now says.

After this stint, she got to work for the late businessman Enrique Zobel, who was one of the closest friends of her father, and in a family-owned corporation.

And in 2001, right after doing “intensive academic work in New York University to see whether I still had the focus for international relations and government,” Loy zaga was asked by Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, Observatory scientific adviser, and Dr. Antonio La Vińa, Dean of Ateneo’s School of Government, to join them in negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol in Bonn, Germany.

“The Kyoto Protocol negotiations are run by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They lead the so-called conference of the party so every time there’s a new development, a new step, they meet,” she explains. UNFCCC is an international environment treaty designed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent its dangerous interference with the climate system.

After the Bonn conference, Loyzaga was invited to become a trustee of the Observatory; from there it seemed almost inevitable that she would head the facility.

While others see her work now as not related to her studies, Loyzaga believes otherwise. In the first place, she is an advocate of environmental protection and she is also fascinated about astronomy.

“The framework for relations between countries used to be what they call the ‘international political economy.’ So basically it’s a financial system, and the way resources move around. But it’s slowly shifting towards ‘international political ecology,’” she notes, so her training in political science and banking, plus her interest in the environment merge happily in her present work.

The Observatory partners with government agencies like Pagasa, the Departments of Health and of Energy; non-government organizations and research institutions like the University of the Philippines and foundations like Ayala Foundation, Oxfam GB, Christian Aid and United States International Aid in various aspects of its work.

Loyzaga reveals that the Observatory and the Ayala Foundation, through her childhood friend Bea Zobel Jr., are working on a sustainable development guidebook and climate and disaster risk management project for Pamilacan Island in Baclayon, Bohol where the coastlines are slowly eroding.

She also warns against rapid urbanization in various “mega cities” in the Philippines, as shown by the map the Observatory produced using the images it picked up from the satellites. She says that urban poor settlements are very “vulnerable to climate change.”

“We find that the most populated places are the river basins, which are at the drainage of major watersheds. While this is normally the most fertile area, this is also the most dangerous area during a heavy rain,” she says.

The Observatory has recommended that when the government makes settlement plans, it should also look at the “political ecology” of the place.

“When we make settlement plans, we don’t just make decisions regarding the political economy of the place. We need to be responsible for maintaining the ecological system too,” she adds.

Loyzaga laments that many Filipino scientists and researchers have already gone abroad because the country does not have enough resources or opportunities for intensive research. She says many of our scientists are hardly known locally while they are highly respected in international science communities.

“We must value our manpower; they can help in our own development process. We need to give more importance to science. (Our scientists) need to be valued more for their contributions to development,” she adds.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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