When I came back to the Philippines after my postdoctoral research, one of the first projects was the Drought and Crop Assessment and Forecasting (DCAF). I also joined the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology at UPD (UP IESM), where I can apply what I learnt in my postdoctoral research at GSFC to different environmental problems. In addition, as meteorology covers weather and climate, I think it is a very good institute for me to join. I can demonstrate the utilization and application of satellite data on different spheres in our environment, namely land, water, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. The interaction of these different spheres really captures the entire environment.
Interview with Dr. Gay Jane P. Perez
Dr. Gay Jane P. Perez
Deputy Director General
Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA)
Dr. Perez serves as the Deputy Director General for Space Science and Technology (DDG-SST) at the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA). She is also a Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology of the University of the Philippines Diliman. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (2010-2011). She is a graduate of the National Institute of Physics at the University of the Philippines Diliman, from which she received her Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics (2003), Master of Science in Physics (2005), and Doctor of Philosophy in Physics (2009).
Dr. Perez has led various programs on satellite development in the Philippines as well as other projects that utilized satellite and remotely sensed data for environmental applications and climate studies.
Dr. Perez was named by the Philippines' National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) as an Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) in the field of Satellite Technology (Physics) in 2021. She is also a recipient of The Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service (TOWNS) Award (2019) and is the first Filipino woman to receive the ASEAN-US Science Prize for Women (2018).
Her research interests include Earth observation satellite product development, drought monitoring and forecasting, forest change detection, land cover/land use change, other satellite remote sensing applications for the environment, seasonal and climate prediction, climate change and variability, complex systems, and interdisciplinary applications of physics.
Before Becoming Deputy DG of PhilSA
Firstly, could you introduce yourself and how you came to be the Deputy Director General of the PhilSA?
My background is in physics. I received my PhD in Physics back in 2009 from the National Institute of Physics at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD). My research interest back then was complex systems modeling. In particular, I looked at evacuation and panic dynamics. It is a social system. It is about people going out of rooms under panic conditions. But my work really is on the modeling part, so modeling complex systems.
After I finished my PhD, I wanted to continue working on complex systems, but a different one compared to what I was doing as a student. I was interested in climate. I think climate is the best example of a complex system. And in studying the climate, I had an opportunity to do my postdoctoral fellowship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in the United States, and there, my supervisor, Dr. Josefino Comiso, advised me that I must first approach it from the perspective of observation if I want to understand the climate, understand how it has changed through time, through measurements, or through observation, before I can do the modeling part.
I took a step back from modeling and focused on observations instead. That was my first interaction or experience with satellite remote sensing. It is a very good source of observation, especially for climate, which is a long-term phenomenon. In satellite data, we have several decades of observation that covers the planet. That gives a unique advantage for studying the changes in the climate and its impact on us.
My first research on satellite remote sensing was looking at changes in vegetation in the Philippines, and that was way back in 2010, when I was in the US for my postdoc. Back then, it was a period when El Niño occurred and I could see the hotspots or signals in the satellite images. There was an anomalous drying condition compared to the previous years and it turns out these are areas that were affected by drought during the 2010 El Niño.
My actual research eventually focused on trying to understand agricultural drought in the Philippines. Using satellite data, we can monitor drought events, their severity, intensity, and duration, and using models, we can predict or project possible drought occurrences in the future.
I started really working on the downstream side of space. Then, back in 2014, there was an opportunity to be part of the Philippines’ microsatellite program, the Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite, or PHL-Microsat. This is a program funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which developed, built, and launched the first Philippine microsatellite, Diwata-1. I had the opportunity to be part of the program as the project scientist. There are several projects under the program, and one of them was on remote sensing product development. That is the project that I led at that time. We were responsible for defining the mission and the objectives of our satellite.
Our team was also responsible for developing algorithms to process the data from our satellite and convert it into different products that can easily be used for different applications. That was my first involvement in the upstream sector, so starting off with the applications and now I get to interface and work with a lot of engineers who are responsible for the actual development of the satellite; the assembly, the testing, and the operations.
I continued on as a Project Leader in that program until the new program, the Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space), came about, which is the successor of the PHL-Microsat program. Eventually, I became, again, one of the project leaders of STAMINA4Space towards the later part of the program. The name of the project is Advanced Satellite Development and Know-How Transfer for the Philippines (ASP), and this project is now responsible for Phase 1 of the development of our new satellite called MULA, which stands for Multispectral Unit for Land Assessment. My role there is to define the mission once again, but this time it is for the new satellite. The project started in 2019, just before the start of the pandemic.
In February 2021, I received my appointment as Deputy Director General for Space Science and Technology at the Philippine Space Agency. I believe my experience with the PHL-Microsat program, STAMINA4Space, and on the downstream aspect of applications of satellite remote sensing, contributed or are part of the reasons why I was selected to serve as the Deputy Director General of the Philippine Space Agency. I am currently on secondment from the university, so I still remain as a faculty of UP IESM but now I serve full time at the Philippine Space Agency.
Past APRSAF Annual Meetings --
“I am really hoping that some of these planned collaborations will materialize very soon because every time I attend APRSAF, there are many ideas that I want to work on and start working on with them,”
We had the 23rd Annual Meeting of APRSAF in 2016 in Manila. Could you tell us about your involvement in that meeting?
I first attended the APRSAF meeting in 2014, during the 21st meeting held in Tokyo, Japan. That was my first time to attend the APRSAF meeting. Prior to this meeting, we went to Hokkaido University and Tohoku University, who became our partners in the development of the Diwata-1 satellite. Back then, we already knew that we would be working with them. Afterwards, at the 22nd APRSAF in Bali, Indonesia, I was also there because we knew that we were expected to host the 23rd APRSAF in Manila. We were invited to help us prepare to conduct APRSAF here.
I was helping the Organizing Committee for the meeting in the Philippines. Although it is mainly organized by DOST, we provided technical assistance from the university. I supported the Space Applications Working Group.
I was able to join APRSAF online again in 2020, a virtual meeting. And more recently, last year, I presented the country report at APRSAF-27. I took a more active role this time as part of the Philippine Space Agency.
I have been in the loop with the SAFE (Space Applications for Environment) community in APRSAF, so ever since I attended the first one in Japan, I try to keep myself up to date on the developments under the SAFE initiative.
More than 30 personnel from PhilSA participated in APRSAF-27 last year. Our Director General, Dr. Joel Joseph Marciano Jr., participated in the Space Leaders Roundtable. I think ever since we started joining during the 21st APRSAF, we have tried to keep an active participation in all of the working groups of the APRSAF.
Can we have your personal feelings about the participants in the APRSAF meeting back in Tokyo and Bali, and so on? How did you feel?
I can vividly recall my interactions with some of the scientists at the APRSAF meetings. I remember really being very interested with the works of, for example, Professor Wataru Takeuchi from the University of Tokyo because they were working on drought, among many things that they were doing. I remember watching one of his presentations and I was really very interested to know more about their program, their techniques, their methodologies, so I remember having a very good and stimulating discussion on drought research with him. Of course, I have been always coordinating with our good friend Dr. Shinichi Sobue of JAXA.
Every time I am at the APRSAF meeting, we always do an exchange conversation. It is really a very friendly community. There are many opportunities and many collaborations. I am really hoping that some of these planned collaborations will materialize very soon because every time I attend APRSAF, there are many ideas that I want to work on and start working on with them, but when I go back, I have to attend to the usual things I do.
I suppose that part of the challenge back then was the PHL-Microsat program. It was very demanding. New projects to work with or starting on something new is not so easy, but I think that the APRSAF Community is a good platform to find these opportunities, and what we need to do is to act on these opportunities, and that is what I really hope to do now at PhilSA. Many groups at PhilSA can be more active in the different initiatives under the APRSAF. We are really looking forward to that in the near future.
You enjoyed and benefited from joining the SAFE community, right?
That is correct. I apply some of the things I learned, like the tools that they are using for drought monitoring and forecasting, so I shared these with the students. But what I am really looking forward to is to have this joint work with some of the scientists from the APRSAF community. That is something I have not really done yet. It is more like learning from what they are doing and then applying it here, such as through attending webinars and then applying our learnings here. I hope we can do something together. So that is really what I am looking forward to in the near future.
About PhilSA --
“What we are doing at the PhilSA is creating value in space, so we call it value creation, in space science and technology applications.”
Could you introduce PhilSA, including the history or purpose and future plans?
The Philippine Space Agency was established through Republic Act 11363, or the Philippine Space Act, which aside from starting the creation of the Philippine Space Agency, it also established the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy. This act was signed by the President on August 8, 2019, and it became effective in September 2019.
I have already mentioned PHL-Microsat and STAMINA4Space, so there are several other projects and initiatives that came before the establishment of PhilSA. The message here is the creation of PhilSA leveraged on the advances in space science and technology applications contributed to by these different projects.
While the agency is new, we are just over two years now and we are building from the ground up, we are not starting from scratch. We are picking a lot of lessons here and capabilities from different projects funded by the government, notably through the DOST. As you may know, these projects led to the development and deployment of now six satellites in orbit. Actually, Japan played a very crucial role here. You have been our partner in all of these satellites.
Starting off with Diwata-1 in 2016, which was followed by its successor, Diwata-2, two years later, both of these were developed under the PHL-Microsat program and together with our partners from Hokkaido University and Tohoku University.
We have Maya-1, which was launched in 2018, this time in partnership with Kyushu Institute of Technology, or Kyutech, under the BIRDS program. It was followed by Maya-2, which was launched in March 2021, and more recently, Maya-3 and Maya-4, which were launched in October 2021.
Now, these last two CubeSats were special in the sense that they were the first ones that were built in the university here in the Philippines by applying what we learned through our engineers' experience in building or in participating in the BIRDS program at Kyutech. They built Maya-1 and 2. When they returned to the Philippines, they shared their know-how and have proliferated it to other students. Now, they were able to build Maya-3 and Maya-4 locally. At the PhilSA, we look forward to continuing and even institutionalizing these efforts now as part of the Philippine Space Agency. The PhilSA is the central government agency addressing all national issues and activities related to space science and technology applications.
We are directly under the Office of the President. We have an Advisory Body, which is the Philippine Space Council, where the PhilSA serves as its Secretariat. The PhilSA is mandated to be the primary policy planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government that will plan, develop, and promote the National Space Program in line with the Philippine Space Policy.
Now, let me introduce to you the Philippine Space Council (PSC). This is an Advisory Body of the PhilSA. It is chaired by the President of the Philippines with the secretaries of Science and Technology and National Defense serving as Vice Chairpersons.
The Council has the following members: the Chair of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology and the House Committee on Science and Technology and the secretaries of National Economic and Development Authority, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Trade and Industry, and Information and Communications Technology. The PhilSA’s Director General serves as the Presidential Advisor on space matters and also the Head Secretariat to the PSC.
Now, the PhilSA is working on the following key development areas identified in the law, as defined in the Philippine Space Policy. These are our national security and development, space research and development, hazard management and climate studies, space education and awareness, space industry capacity building, and international cooperation.
What we are doing at the PhilSA is creating value in space, so we call it value creation, in space science and technology applications. In a space value chain are the different components of the earth and marine observation starting off with the infrastructure. This is where you have the satellites, the upstream segment of Earth observation. We continue to create value there with our experiences in building Diwata-1, Diwata-2, and the Maya series. We are working towards localization of some of the subsystem components and proliferating the know-how to further develop our human capital in terms of satellite development.
In 2020, the PhilSA started two flagship projects under the Space Science and Technology Applications (SSTA) Program. One is Build, Build, Build in Space (B3iS). This will continue the development of Philippine satellites as a vital component of national information infrastructure. The second flagship project is mobilizing space data for digital inclusion, economy, and government.
Maybe lastly, I just would like to highlight that aside from building the infrastructure and the downstream applications, we are also, of course, focusing on human capital development. Our approach to this is starting from basic education, so the K to 12 program, up to capacity building of our government and industry partners.
Under the K to 12 Program, we started by conducting a baseline assessment of space education in Philippine schools which would aid us in developing our Space Education Program further. We are looking at how we can integrate SSTA in the curriculum. We are also working on a new project, the Nationwide Network for Educational Satellite Terrestrial Stations, or NNESTS, where we will deploy amateur radio kits to selected senior high schools.
As for higher education and postgraduate degrees, we launched a scholarship program called AD ASTRA, which stands for Advanced Degrees for Accelerating STRAtegic Space R&D and Applications. These are for Filipino scholars who are interested in pursuing SSTA-related courses for their postgraduate studies. Through our program and research exchanges, we aim to foster a culture of SSTA research that would contribute and cascade into various sectors and stakeholders.
For this year, PhilSA is embarking on a nationwide know-how and technology transfer program called ISKUELA, which stands for Inclusive SSTA Know-how Utilization, Exchange, and Localization Activities. Through this program, we will engage various sectors in fostering a culture of science and innovation in space for the benefit of the society.
Lastly, I just want to share our vision. The PhilSA envisions a Filipino nation bridged, uplifted, and empowered through the peaceful uses of outer space. Our mission is to promote and sustain a robust Philippine space ecosystem that adds and creates value in space for and from Filipinos and for the world. Really, it is about value creation in space. That is what we are aiming for at the Philippine Space Agency.
I hope I was able to provide some background. Actually, you will find a lot of information about the Philippine Space Agency on our website. It is space.gov.ph or philsa.gov.ph.
Earth Observation and beyond
Earth observation is one of the main focuses or interests of the PhilSA. Do you have any future plans to extend your activities to other fields?
Thank you for asking that.
Earth observation will always be a priority area of the PhilSA, simply because we started with Earth observation satellites and, of course, we want that to continue and further enhance our capability on Earth observation. But certainly, we are looking at expanding this as well. I’d like to mention that one of our initiatives, INCENTIVISE, which stands for “Introducing Non-Geostationary Satellite Constellations Test Deployments to Improve Internet Service,” was launched in 2021.
This project aims to utilize emerging satellite systems to bridge the digital divide to those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas in the country. We are also looking at how the PhilSA can, of course, contribute to addressing this particular challenge in satellite communication or communications in general.
I would like to add that we are currently conducting a decadal survey. Under the decadal survey, we worked on eight focus areas . One of them is on navigation and communication, and another focus area is on security and defense, in addition to the different focus areas spreading into environment and Earth observation.
I guess one more thing to mention, our initiatives on interdisciplinary space missions. This is the one that looks up, as opposed to looking at the Earth. We have a division at PhilSA, which is called the Interdisciplinary Space Missions Development Division. This group will be focusing on space environment and space utilization, as well as space exploration and space situational domain awareness, among many other fields under interdisciplinary space science.
Developing Human Resources –
“It is not really just scientists and engineers, but is actually a melting pot of different disciplines which all contribute to the entire space ecosystem.”
You have a background in academics and now you are working as Deputy Director General in the PhilSA. Do you have any opinion on education and capacity building in this field?
I think we really believe that this is an important component in order for us to have a thriving space ecosystem. We see the important role that the academe plays in developing the space ecosystem. For us, the space ecosystem is not just the PhilSA but it is actually the convergence of the government, which is spearheaded by the PhilSA plus the academe and industry as well.
In this ecosystem, coming from the academe, I think that it is important to have this connection with the universities, because the cutting-edge science and technology innovations are usually borne out of the research and development (R&D) activities involving our scientists and engineers in the universities. We want to keep promoting and continue supporting that as well.
Now, the university also plays a role in training our future scientists and engineers who will later on be part of the PhilSA or become part of the space industry. This pipeline has to be there, so we have to ensure that we continue developing programs in the universities that can generate talented Filipino scientists, engineers, and even those in other disciplines, like law, economics, communication. It is not really just scientists and engineers, but is actually a melting pot of different disciplines which all contribute to the entire space ecosystem. We are promoting capacity building across different fronts.
I already mentioned the role of the academe and we need to go even younger, addressing also the interest or increasing the interest of our young students in elementary and high school so that they will pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related careers or they will be interested in a career in space in the future. We are developing programs that would entice them on space science and technology and its applications. I think I can go on and on to emphasize the crucial role of education and capacity building in the space ecosystem.
”Women in Space”
As you are a female researcher and a female Deputy Director General of the PhilSA, can we ask about the policy or implementation to minimize the gender gap and to improve diversity in the PhilSA as well as in the space sector in the Philippines?
Well, in terms of closing the gender gap in the space sector, we are still on a long way to go, at least globally. Data from the United Nations revealed that one out of five or only 20% of space industry workers are women, so that is global statistics. That is what we are facing now. As to the PhilSA, we are aware of these global statistics, hence, we are being proactive in order to narrow this gender gap.
In particular, just last year in 2021, World Space Week chose “Women in Space” as its theme. This presented us an opportunity to provide platforms for female role models in space science and technology and applications and to highlight the achievements of Filipino women in the field and to raise awareness on the opportunities for education and career development for the younger generation of women and girls. Looking at the attendance to the virtual events that we conducted for the entire week, also the media coverage we have had, and the increase in our social media following after the event, we can say that it was a mission success for us in the conduct of the World Space Week.
The PhilSA also continues to support and spearhead efforts to encourage participation of women and girls in SSTA. Women scientists and engineers working at the PhilSA have been visible in community engagement activities of educational institutions. Their visibility is meant to inspire and encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in space.
The Public Relations and Information Division at PhilSA also sees to it that the efforts of our partner agencies in the government and private sector in raising awareness on women in science and technology are disseminated through our digital platforms. I showed the link to our website earlier. We also have several social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whenever there is an opportunity to highlight the contributions and roles of our women scientists and engineers in the space industry.
I also would like to add that in the Philippine government, we do have this GAD or Gender Awareness Development Program.
All government agencies are actually mandated to allocate at least 5% of their budget for GAD-related activities. I think it is a very good policy that all government agencies are conscious about addressing the gender gap and increasing awareness of the role of women and promoting equality and also diversity in the workforce.
PhilSA also takes an active part in that. We have identified programs in our plans, which supports our GAD objectives.
The Relationship between the Philippines and APRSAF
Our last question is about the relationship between the Philippines and the APRSAF.
What is the benefit for the Philippines or the PhilSA of participating in APRSAF activities? What do you expect from joining the APRSAF? The last one is, on the other hand, what can the Philippines or the PhilSA contribute to or do for the APRSAF communities?
I would like to start by saying that the PhilSA can take the lead in disseminating information and opportunities regarding the activities of the APRSAF in the country. We want to continue our participation in the different working groups, so we can also in turn share the different projects or programs under these working groups with the rest of the community.
In particular, we want to be active in the SAFE Workshop. And very recently, the PhilSA became a member of Kibo-ABC. Through our membership in Kibo-ABC and our participation in the Space Frontier Working Group (SFWG) of APRSAF, we will be able to leverage the use of the Japanese experiment module, or Kibo, on the International Space Station. It will also help us accumulate experience and enhance our capacity through projects. For example, the AHiS or Asian Herb in Space project, we want to participate there. We do have a project now in the Philippines, it is called “Space Seed For Education and Research,” or SSEEDR, which is like a derivative from AHiS. I believe JAXA would be sharing with us some of the seeds that were brought to space. We can distribute some of them to our local high schools under this SSEEDR project and conduct experiments using these space seeds.
We also want to enhance our bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and lastly, broaden our opportunities for educating and increasing awareness among our students about space, expanding Filipinos’ understanding of the space environment and carrying out space science research, experiments, and observations of life sciences, physical sciences, and technologies in space. Also, I would like to add that due to our participation in the National Space Legislation Initiative (NSLI), the PhilSA gains knowledge regarding space legislation and best practices in the Asia-Pacific region.
In that sense, you are eager to be very active among the APRSAF communities and are joining various fields of activities. In future, what role or contribution can you provide to the APRSAF communities as a newly established space agency in this area?
Well, now I am thinking about that. For one, we can share our experience as a newly established space agency. I think we really benefited tremendously from our partnership with Japan. It has been a good experience for us. It is something that we want to share, especially with the other countries in the region that may not have their space program yet, so we can share with them how we were able to jumpstart our satellite development through international cooperation.
I think we can also share our unique experience of establishing an agency under a pandemic. It is quite challenging to mobilize, to set up from ground up, during these days. Right now, we are over 100 employees, which is already halfway. Our number of a full staffed agency is a little over 200. We have reached the halfway mark. We are continuously building, so we can definitely share our experiences there.
On the more technical aspect, I think that we have quite wide applications of satellite technology in the Philippines. Starting off with disaster management, environmental monitoring, and resource management, we do have a lot of case studies in the Philippines. We experience different types of natural hazards, like typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and so on. All of these present very practical use cases of satellite technology, and we will be happy to bring in our experience, especially in what we call the interrogation or the analysis of these data. We can present the ground truth because we have quite vast experience in that.
The same is true for our environment resource monitoring and assessment. We have vast oceans and seas, being an archipelagic country. We do have forests and agricultural areas, so all these things serve as a very good demonstration of tools that we developed from space. I think we can bring that to the table, in addition to the first that I mentioned. Maybe at least those two for now. But really, I think I will add one more.
We have very enthusiastic and young students who are eager to take part in the so-called space ecosystem. We can also bring them into the fold. We have an active community participating in these hackathons, so it is quite impressive whenever we have space application challenges such as the one that was recently done with JAXA, NASA, and ESA. It drew huge participation from the Philippines. I think we can share these also in the APRSAF community.
Thank you. Do you have any plans or are you thinking about sharing Diwata observation data with Asian countries or cooperating with these countries on space technology?
We do have this Asian Micro-satellite Consortium, which serves as the platform for sharing data from the different satellite missions in the region. Under this framework, we do hope to be able to share resources, particularly data from our own satellites.
There is also this new project under Asi@Connect which essentially would be a step towards the realization of this Asian Micro-satellite Consortium. We are looking at this project, called SIKAP+, which stands for Space Infrastructure, Know-How and Applications Acceleration through Promotion and Training, to be able to establish partnerships and foster the culture of data sharing among the different countries.