Dr. Antonio G. M. La Vina is the new Executive Director of Manila Observatory
by Genevieve H. Lorenzo, Quirino Sugon Jr, and Deanna Marie P. Olaguer
In a memo dated 15 September 2016, Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Manila Observatory, announced the appointment of Dr. Antonio G. M. La Viña as Executive Director of the Manila Observatory (MO) starting 1 October 2016. Dr. La Viña is a lawyer, a member the Board of Trustees of the Manila Observatory since 2004, and was the dean of the Ateneo School of Government for the past 10 years, as well as undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1996. He has worked nationally and internationally on the policy concerns of various environmental concerns, including climate change. Dr. La Viña was a spokesman, advisor, and negotiator for the Philippines at the COP21 climate summit in Paris in 2015. He finished his Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Dr. La Viña succeeded Ms. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga who served as Manila Observatory’s Executive Director since 2007. During her term, Ms. Loyzaga positioned the observatory as a center for disaster science and risk management, focusing not only on observation and monitoring of natural disasters like typhoons, floods, and earthquakes, but also on how to quantify the disaster risks to help the government and private sectors mitigate the effects of disasters and organize the relief efforts. In his homily at the mass celebrating the culmination of MO’s 150th year anniversary last September 26, 2016, Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ thanked Ms. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga for her nine years of service as Executive Director from 2007 to 2016, for her outstanding leadership that has brought the Manila Observatory international recognition as an institution in the frontiers of disaster science and risk reduction, and for the successful series of scientific symposiums, meetings and exhibits during MO’s sesquicentennial.
Dr. Antonio G. M. La Vina and Ms. Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga
Message of the Executive Director
I am now Executive Director of Manila Observatory, a Jesuit scientific institution that, among others, works on climate change, disaster risk reduction, poverty mapping, etc. I replace my friend Toni Yulo Loyzaga whom I helped recruit to join MO a decade Ago. She has done a wonderful job and her shoes will be difficult to fill.
I have been in the MO board for twelve years and is totally committed to its work. And so when the request to head the oldest observatory in Asia came from Fr. Jett Villarin, the Chair of the board, I could not refuse. I am actually excited and enthusiastic to do this, especially at this time when there is a good chance that the international community working together can defeat climate change with the Paris Agreement and reduce significantly, via the Sendai Framework, the most serious risks of disasters. I am also very happy to join a community of the best physical scientists in the country, including our wisest colleague Fr. Sergio Su who welcomed me warmly and many young scientists at the start of their careers. My job is to make sure they have the enabling environment and the resources to do excellent science. My responsibility is to help them identify priorities and to shepherd the results of their work for better impact, among others to influence policy and governance decisions.
On a personal note, I welcome this opportunity to do solid technical work. It’s a chance to detach a bit from our vicious politics. I will still be teaching law in a number of schools, doing governance work with the Ateneo School of Government, and will continue to do legal, policy and capacity building work for government and international organizations but leading MO now rises to the top in terms of my priorities.
Facing the New Frontiers
Last 27 April 2016, the Philippines launched its own satellite Diwata-I, named after the fairies in Filipino folklore, from the Kibo Module of the International Space Station (ISS). The microsatellite was made possible through the efforts of DOST (Department of Science and Technology), Hokkaido University, and Tohoku University. A bill was recently filed by Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, Program Leader of the National Space Program, in the Philippine Senate (SB 1211) and House of Representatives (HB 3637) for the creation of PhilSA or the Philippine Space Agency. The launching of satellites may be beneficial to the country in terms of weather imaging and telecommunications, but doing so also puts the satellite infrastructure at risk to natural disasters that haven’t yet caught popular imagination—disasters such as geomagnetic storms, solar radiation storms, and radio blackouts.
The Manila Observatory started in an abandoned pigeon hole which expanded into a network of stations for monitoring the storms that rage in the heavens. Now, as the Philippines is venturing into space, the Manila Observatory has partnered with different institutions to access data from different instrument arrays to monitor the storms not only in the troposphere, but also in the lithosphere, ionosphere, magnetosphere, and the heliosphere. We are all in the sun’s atmosphere and the agitations in the solar interior send shock waves to disturb our life here on earth.
“1865 is when the Manila Observatory opened for business,” wrote Director Tony La Vina, as he shared the story of Manila Observatory’s beginnings written by the Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ. “I feel so young to lead such a great institution in the 21st century.”