Typhoon Ruby a virtual outlaw

Strong typhoons batter islands, particularly those lying on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean like Samar and Leyte, many times during the year, causing loss of many lives and wreaking serious damage to property and crops. His island province of Catanduanes, also on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, Rep. Francisco Perfecto filed a bill in Congress in the late 1950s to address the problems caused by typhoons. A cynical member of the House of Representatives immediately dubbed the bill as the “Bill to Outlaw Typhoons.”

The press lapped up the derisive label, prompting political pundits to comment that the bill was reflective of the naiveté of the occupants of the Lower House, comments which in turn encouraged discourse among politicized citizens on the abolition of that House. The informed citizenry urged that the House of Representatives be abolished because its members lack the erudition and vision necessary for legislative work, citing the bill to outlaw typhoons as an example of the hollowness if not absurdity of the bills introduced in the House of Representatives.

The facts is nowhere in the bill was there any statement or even a hint to declare typhoons outlaws. The label “A bill to outlaw typhoons” was only the product of the sardonic mind of another congressman. The true intent of Rep. Perfecto’s bill was to study typhoons with a view to controlling and reducing the death and destruction they wreak.

The bill included provisions for funding the specialized training of Weather Bureau personnel and the acquisition of technical equipment. Because the budget asked for was sizable, and its purpose was at the time in the realm of the improbable, a political rival of Rep. Perfecto mocked the bill as being tantamount to outlawing typhoons.

Sadly, the true purpose of Rep. Perfecto’s bill to study typhoons never became known outside the hall of the House of Representatives. What gained wide circulation instead was the twisted information that a member of Congress wanted to declare typhoons outlaws. Because of the jeers rained down on his bill and the snide remarks blown his way, Rep. Perfecto allowed his bill to die a quick death. He retired from politics after the end of his term in 1957.

It is ironic that Rep. Perfecto’s bill on typhoons had been the subject of derision when the scorned bill had proven to be the product of wisdom and vision. Today, we can track a typhoon even before it enters the Philippine area of responsibility and days before it makes landfall. We now know how strong its winds, how much rain it will bring, and how long it will hover over Philippine territory.

Loss of lives and damage to property were dramatically reduced because Typhoon Ruby was spotted a week before, its path tracked, its strength determined, the areas it would affect identified, the time it would make its first landfall predicted, and the amount of rain it would bring estimated. All that was made possible because of Executive Order No. 128 of January 1987, which mandated the reorganization of the National Science and Technology Administration, now the Department of Science and Technology. Pursuant to that executive order, PAGASA, a line agency of the Department, was directed to:

  • Maintain a nationwide network  pertaining to observation and forecasting of weather and flood and other conditions affecting national safety, welfare and economy;
  • Undertake activities relative to observation, collection, assessment and processing of atmospheric and allied data for the benefit of agriculture, commerce and industry;
  • Engage in studies of geophysical and astronomical phenomena essential to the safety and welfare of the people;
  • Undertake researches on the structure, development and motion of typhoons and formulate measures for their moderation; and
  • Maintain effective linkages with scientific organizations here and abroad and promote exchange of scientific information and cooperation among personnel engaged in atmospheric, geophysical, astronomical and space studies.

Executive Order No. 128 is practically what Rep. Perfecto of Catanduanes proposed on the floor of the Lower House of Congress in the late 1950s. His political opponents and detractors would have mocked EO 128 as an order to outlaw typhoons. In their way of thinking Typhoon Ruby would have been considered an outlaw.

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