Editorial

A smarter people

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Talk about the best of both worlds. Filipinos are well-known for their adherence to old-world tradition and their capability to innovate for new-school thinking. Most timely and commendable then is the new government program, fittingly named “Smarter Philippines,” to push science and technology (S&T) for the population’s greatest benefit.

According to Science Secretary Mario Montejo, the program is the Department of Science and Technology’s “trademark for the next five years,” and is “anchored tightly on the DOST’s goal of using S&T to improve the quality and productivity of every Filipino’s life.” The program puts emphasis on locally developed, technology-oriented solutions to many longstanding problems.

On Wednesday, the DOST will formally launch Smarter Philippines in Davao City, highlighting some of its ongoing projects: Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) and its major component, the Disaster Risk Exposure and Assessment for Mitigation-Light Detection and Ranging (Dream-Lidar) flood forecasting system; the Integrated Government Philippine (iGovPhil) project, which is designed to connect all of the government’s systems; and the Smarter Farms and Smarter Healthcare projects. The others are the P350-million Advanced Device and Materials Testing Laboratory (Admatel) and the experimental Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) mass-transit project.

Particularly noteworthy is that the program covers such critical areas as healthcare, disaster mitigation and agriculture—only three aspects of Philippine reality that, in their current state, serve to pin the country in the dark age.

The most high-profile of the Smarter Philippines initiatives is Project Noah, which has had a meaningful impact on the lives of Filipinos. Project Noah seeks to provide the public the most accurate and up-to-date information on possible flooding using an interactive website and various components. Learning from the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009, the DOST developed and employed its new automated rainfall and flood predictions systems last year. Project Noah was able to predict floods in August, allowing the Marikina City government to evacuate its constituents. “As Marikina has shown, the concept works. Filipino technology works. We have proven it. We were effective in giving the advisory,” said Enrico Paringit, who heads Project Noah’s flood hazard mapping component. Through the Dream-Lidar system, the project’s staff members accurately predicted the Marikina River’s flooding; they put the system to work next on the Agno and Pampanga rivers.

Project Noah not only coordinates with local government units but also makes the information readily available on its website. Now, LGUs listen when Project Noah talks—a triumphant example of Filipino science smarts saving lives.

Another project worth keeping track of is the AGT train system set to be built in Bicutan, Taguig City. It is a P40-million joint venture between the DOST and the Taguig government and is expected to help meet the transportation needs of a continuously growing public on the move. The DOST has a prototype running on a 465-meter elevated track in the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. The AGT prototype costs only a fifth of what it will cost to buy a foreign-made train, Montejo says. “Why is it cheaper? It’s like using generic against branded,” he says.

Smarter Philippines will also serve to display the innovation and brain power of Filipino scientists and experts, who have time and again held their own on the world stage. (Only last month, Filipino students won 11 silver medals at the 14th International Robot Olympiad in South Korea, just the most recent of many international honors S&T-minded Filipinos have received.)

This is just the beginning, promises Montejo. “We will brandish world-class products and processes that are conceptualized by local talents and experts and developed using local technologies.” Indeed, Smarter Philippines is a perfect opportunity to showcase Filipino ingenuity and how science and technology can positively impact the lives of others where and when it matters. It’s deserving of all support, both public and private.

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