Assistant Editor, Geospatial World
Business Development Manager – SEAPAC
With its aggressive economic growth and development plans and steadily growing awareness about the benefits of geospatial technology, especially its role in safeguarding the nation against the vagaries of nature, Phillippines offers a lot of potential to the geospatial industry
Often referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Orient,’ the Philippines is an archipelago of about 7000 islands, with the 5th longest coastline in the world. Owing to its coastlines and rainforests, the country is home to one of the ten most biologically diverse flora and fauna.
The country has witnessed fluctuating fortunes since the end of World War II. Philippines was one of the richest countries in the region at that time but years of economic mismanagement and political volatility from 1960s onwards contributed to economic stagnation and resulted in macroeconomic instability. During the 1990s however, the Philippine Government introduced a broad range of economic reforms designed to spur business growth and foreign investment. One of the key steps was implementation of Millennium Development Goals for the period of 1990-2015. As a result, the Philippines saw a period of higher growth.
A newly industrialised country, the Philippine economy has been transitioning from one based on agriculture to one based more on services and manufacturing. The Philippine economy grew at its fastest pace in 2010 expanding 7.3%. Philippines seeks to attract more foreign investment and enable the long underperforming economy to catch up with its fast-developing Asian neighbours, according to analysts. President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration plans to double the Philippines’ infrastructure investments in the next six years by tapping the private sector as well. The new government is looking to raise investments to a range of 25 percent to 28 percent of gross domestic product for the period 2011 to 2016, from the current 14 percent.
PHILIPPINE DEVELOPMENT PLAN 2011-16
The Philippines has set itself on aggressive economic growth and development path through the Philippine Development Plan 2011-16. It targets a higher economic growth of 7-8 percent per year for at least six years. The Plan also envisages creating an annual average of one million jobs. The Plan’s key strategies include massive investments in infrastructure, transparent and responsive governance, human development and improved social services, competitiveness to generate employment and access to financing.
The Philippine government has been actively using geospatial technology for development purposes. According to Philippine Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals, GIS maps have been a useful tool in highlighting spatial disparities. Spatial analysis of poverty is being used in a number of policy and research applications ranging from targeting emergency food aid and anti-poverty programmes to assessments of the determinants of poverty and food insecurity. Poverty mapping applications are being used by organisations ranging from governments (municipality, state/province, national) to non-governmental organisations and multilateral development agencies.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the socio-economic planning agency in the Philippines, has been using geospatial technology since 1980s. “There were GIS programmes that were used for specific purposes or specific areas in the country, such as those for coastal resource management and for the redevelopment of areas severely affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, informs Remedios Endencia, Director, Regional Development Coordination Staff, NEDA. Awareness about the benefits of geospatial technology among the government is also on the rise. Most government agencies at the central level, and about 20 percent at local level, have started using the technology, observes a representative from National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA). Organisations are also taking proactive steps to strengthen their geospatial base. The Department of Public Works and Highways, for example, has a GIS Steering Committee that is responsible to spread GIS awareness at the national, regional and provincial level.
As part of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for the period 2004-2010, government announced regional development plans, covering 14 regions, outlining strategies to promote regional productivity that sustain overall economic growth. These strategies lay strong emphasis on the use of geospatial technology to enhance productivity across regions, across segments and across functions – GIS as a planning tool, GIS in disaster management, in forest inventory, GIS for mapping of prime agricultural lands and for taxation, etc.
The Philippine Government is well aware of the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) and has taken several initiatives in incorporating ICT in its activities. After the e-Commerce Act of 2000, the Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC) is striving towards an ICT-enabled Philippine society and has come up with the vision of an ePhilippines. The ePhilippines vision includes development of the country as a world-class ICT services provider, providing government services to stakeholders online, providing affordable Internet access to all segments of the population, developing an ICT enabled workforce and creating an enabling legal and regulatory environment. What also provides Philippines a comparative advantage in the ICT domain is its high literacy rate at 94 percent and a 72 percent population fluent in English, one of the most popular languages of the Internet.
Verticals driving business
The Government of Philippines envisions a world-class efficient land administration and management system that is geared towards a sustainable and equitable socioeconomic growth for the Filipino people and to promote optimal use and sustainable management of land resources and has taken several initiatives to realise this vision. Geospatial technologies like GPS, GNSS and aerial photography are being used in the process. The benefits of incorporating the technology include enhanced decision making, expediting land titling process and greater accessibility of information for local government, informs Engr. Henry Pacis, Deputy Executive Director, LAMP Project Office.
In Philippines, arable farmland comprises more than 40 percent of the total land area. The agriculture sector employs more than one-third of the workforce but provides less than a fifth of GDP. With its 7,107 islands, the Philippines owns a diverse range of fishing areas. According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, agriculture grew by 5.48 percent in the first six months of 2011. The crops subsector expanded by 11.13 percent in the first half of 2011. Initiatives have been taken to strengthen the fisheries subsector.
According to Dr. Honorio Flameno, IT Officer of the Department of Agriculture, the major user of geospatial technology under the Department is the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM). The Bureau uses geospatial technology in activities such as mapping of agricultural areas/resources, identifying suitable areas for agriculture and fisheries activities (e.g crop suitability), mapping of small irrigation infrastructure, etc.
Philippines, being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis and is one of the world’s most disaster hit nations. Realising the significance of geospatial information in better understanding and managing hazards, the Philippine Government has undertaken a number of initiatives in various aspects related to disaster management across its various departments.
After the Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, the national government saw the need for the creation of a national elevation database to support the flood exposure risk and exposure assessment efforts, informs Dr. Engr. Enrico C. Paringit, Associate Professor, Department of Geodetic Engineering, University of the Philippines.
One of the oldest departments in the Philippine government, the Department of Public Works and Highways is responsible for managing bridge and national road infrastructures of the country and is fast incorporating modern technologies into its processes. The Department has been using GIS since 2004. The Bureaus under the Department which use geospatial technology include Bureau of Maintenance, Bureau of Planning Services and Bureau of Monitoring and Information Services. They have a Bridge and Road Information System which connects 16 regional offices. They also have Highway Development Management System for monitoring purpose. In 2011, the Department has scheduled upgrading of all GIS software down to district level. This one year project will cost USD 780,000 and it is funded by the World Bank.
Three main energy plans dictate the overall agenda for the country’s energy policy: The Philippine Energy Plan 2005-2014 (PEP 2005-2014), The Philippine Energy Plan 2009-2030 (PEP 2009-2030) and The Clean Technology Fund Investment Plan (CTF Investment Plan).
In alignment with these plans, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, the company responsible for electricity transmission for the whole of Philippines, is extensively using geospatial technology to meet the country’s energy requirement. The Corporation manages 230 sub-stations, 36,000 towers and 16,000 km of powerlines. At the moment, about 60 percent of their operations use GIS. They hope to make it 100 percent by 2013, inform Melchor P. Valdeabella, Division Head, Enterprise GIS and Dr. Medel P. Limsuan, GIS Advisor / Specialist, NGCP. The organisation is investing significant amount for aerial photography and orthophoto-mapping of transmission lines during 2011-12. It started using geospatial technology in 2005. NGCP aims to map all assets (transmission line) with aerial photos by 2012.
The US Department of State estimates that Philippines is one of the world’s most highly mineralised countries, with untapped mineral wealth estimated at more than USD 840 billion. Philippine copper, gold and chromate deposits are among the largest in the world. Other important minerals include nickle, silver, coal, gypsum and sulphur. The Philippines also has significant deposits of clay, limestone, marble, silica and phosphate.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has a Geology Database Information System, which serves as an inventory of geological and mineral resources in the whole country. The Bureau has been using geospatial technology since 1990s.
CHALLENGES & WAY FORWARD
Human resources: Majority industry stakeholders are of the view that getting qualified manpower is a big challenge for the country. The problem is especially dire in government sectors which are not allowed to hire new resources, and many experts prefer to migrate and work overseas. As per the government’s directive, some government agencies are not allowed to hire new personnel since 1980s. This leaves them with very limited human resource and at an average age of workforce of 54.
Bureaucracy: Vendors often find themselves constrained by bureaucratic processes. Engr. Gina A. Milarion, VP – Business Development, SRDP Consulting opines that getting a project in Philippines is very challenging. One has to go through bidding process and competition is pretty high.
Need for market expansion: Private vendors currently have few system development jobs coming their way, limiting their growth and thereby market growth. Most government projects are on hardware/software procurements and trainings, with not much system development job, the government prefers to do it in-house, observes Marigrace D. Pedrezuela, Manager – RS Department, Certeza Infosys Corp. Ma. Luz. C. Cruzado-Drapete, Industry Manager, Head – Marketing Department (OIC), Resources/Environment/Agrarian Reform/Land Management Sector, too notes that the company is mostly involved in supplying software as the users usually develop their own systems.
On the other hand, users feel that the industry could do with more service providers in some categories. Melchor Valdeabella feels that there are very limited service providers for aerial photography, and none have their own advanced aerial system.
With its aggressive economic and social development plans, healthy ICT infrastructure, growing awareness levels about geospatial technology both among government and private sector and concerted government initiatives to grow the technology, Philippines has a lot of untapped potential which augurs well for industry growth in the country. The Geoportal initiative, if successfully implemented, would add a new dimension to the industry.