Saturday, 27 December 2014

"For another AGUILA!"

"For another AGUILA!"

At first, it's been a long time for some Filipinos to remember one of the (almost) great feats in pre-millennial history.

That, on the 20th of August, 1997 1:58 A.M, the second flight of LM-3B successfully launched the Philippines' first Aguila II satellite, into its successful orbit. Quite rejoicing for the Filipino as they sought an achievement, that sparked a New Year-like, nationwide celebration after months of anticipation with high expectations. And in it comes upliftment, all filled with pride as they became aware of the Philippines' first cyberspace achievement.

As according to Ben Cal of the Philippine News Agency (from a Manila Bulletin article made last 2013), he said:

"The whole country led by President Ramos, awaited the ambitious launching of the 'Agila II' satellite (postponed several times due to bad weather). As the countdown started, various high government officials and executives of the Mabuhay Philippines Satellite Corporation (a PLDT subsidiary) who watched the launch live on television at Bahay Pangarap, Malacañang Park, early dawn that day were apprehensive. The anxiety during the countdown ended when the rocket booster carrying 'Agila II' zoomed into outer space at a blinding speed of 27,200 kms per hour.

For 24 minutes after the rocket blasted off from China's space center in Xichiang, Sichuan Province, a small crowd of people, including President FVR and MPSC's Chairman Tony Boy Cojuangco watching anxiously, was overwhelmed with joy as it viewed the lift-off on a special television hookup.

It was the first time a Filipino consortium, led by PLDT, ventured into the lucrative satellite business, investing PHP1.9 billion. Chairman Cojuangco was quite nervous as he watched the spaceship carrying the 'Agila II' satellite make a perfect blastoff."

Brief background

According to the Department of Science and Technology (DoST via Wikipedia), Aguila II was a joint venture of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) via its subsidiary, Mabuhay Satellite Corporation, as well as various companies from the People's Republic of China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Namely: High Rise Realty Development Corporation, Pilipino Telephone Corp. (Piltel), Beijing High Den Enterprises Limited, Walden Group of Companies, GMA Network, Inc., Philippine Satellite Corporation, Cable Entertainment Corporation, SiyYap Group, Philippine Communications Satellite Corporation, Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) of Indonesia and the China Everbright Group Limited (CELG). Its cost was estimated at US$ 243 million and was manufactured by Space Systems/Loral with its design based on their existing FS-1300 satellite bus. The satellite was deployed to orbit by a Chinese Long March 3B rocket in Sichuan province, on 20 August 1997, and it is expected to achieve a mission lifetime of more than 15 years with its solar panels for power. 

The satellite contains 30 C-band transponders at 27 watts and 24 Ku-band transponders at 110 watts, combinable to 12 high-power 220-watt transponders. Total DC power at End of Life (EOL) is expected to be more than 8200 watts. The combination provides a power-to-mass ratio of 5-to-1, making it one of the most efficient satellites in the industry. A single Aguila II satellite transmits more than 190 channels of high-fidelity digital programming to cable companies and home satellite dishes, along with the capability to handle more than 50,000 simultaneous two-way telephone conversations.

A source of pride that encompasses Asia and the Pacific

With its launch made several years ago, Aguila II means national pride and a promise of progress. Originally named "Mabuhay" after its owner, former President Fidel V. Ramos changed it to "Aguila II" as a continuity from its predecessor Aguila I. The difference was that the latter was originally an Indonesian satellite (Palapa I) that was also bought by Mabuhay.

The main purpose of the project was to expose the Philippines to global information technology (IT) which was then in its embryonic stage.  According to an article made by DoST, It stated that will greatly benefit the country in telecommunications, entertainment, education, and the newly emerging Internet. With the satellite, schools in distant provinces can use audio-visual receivers for information instead of buying text books that are either too expensive or too hard to obtain (or both).

Aguila II can also provide Filipinos who live in remote areas with quality programming which, before, was only available in certain parts of the country with the use of cable facilities. The satellite is powerful enough to reach an estimated population of over two billion people. It is capable of transmitting more than 190 channels to cable companies and home satellite dishes. It can also handle more than 50,000 simultaneous two way telephone conversations and will serve as a back-up to the country's telephone network. For the Internet sector, the satellite can allow a 15 megabyte per second speed for data access.

But Aguila II is not limited to Filipino telecommunications alone, but for its neighbours as well. the satellite provides the most powerful coverage in the Asia-Pacific region. It covers the entire continent of Asia east of Pakistan, as well as the Western Pacific west of Hawaii. 

The 24 Ku-band transponders of the satellite may also be commanded by ground control to combine into 12 high-powered transponders with 220-watt amplifiers for the purpose of broadcasting direct-to-home digital TV services. The Mabuhaysat satellite centre, situated in Subic Zambales provided spacecraft control functions, including test-on-station operations and payload reconfiguration. It was highly automated with complete data storage facilities, logistic and support capabilities, and was designed to support mission operations simultaneously with communications to provide real-time verification of payload performance. And to make sure it had the best people to control the satellite, Mabuhay selected a team of Filipino engineers to train in Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California, for two years.

The successful completion of the Agila launch in 1997 heralded the Philippines' entry into the space age and as according to ex-President Ramos, a take-off of a strategic plan called "Philippines 2000" in order to achieve enduring peace and sustainable development.

... Only to be bought, hence lost

However, that pride lasted for several years, for as the satelitte continues to wander space and continues its duty of transmitting signals, the satelitte was sold by foreign interests. That made one article at the Philippine Daily Inquirer stated: "thereby losing its unique status as the Philippines' sole territory in space."

Furthermore, according to the same article was that one wonders where the Philippine government was when the PLDT, the majority owner of Mabuhay Satellite, lost Aguila 2 to ProtoStar Ltd., a start-up DTH (direct-to-home) operator based in Bermuda, in exchange for an equity position in the company last 2008. 

According to the deal given, PLDT and MSC also allowed expanded ProtoStar use of Mabuhaysat Subic Space Center for the operation and control of satellites, and Aguila II, the once star of Mabuhay Satellite and Philippines 2000, became part of the ProtoStar constellation of satellites and was renamed ProtoStar III.

But ProtoStar wasend bankrupt few years after,  as it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States in July 2010 after succumbing to multiple frequency-coordination issues, with the company's two satellites' ProtoStar I and ProtoStar II were auctioned off to Intelsat and SES, two of the biggest satellite companies in the world. Aguila II was also affected by the turn of events, yet immediately found a new home, as official PLDT records showed that last Oct. 22, 2009, MSC entered into agreements with Asia Broadcast Satellite Holdings Ltd. (ABS), another Bermuda company engaged in the satellite business, involving the wholesale lease by ABS of the satellite, and renamed ABS 3 after it was bought by the latter for $ 9.9 million last 2010.

In short, interests whom once took pride simply sold while people care less about it as few papers report about the satellite being sold for a million, hence lost.

From its launch as the "First Filipino satellite", Aguila II somehow represents the Filipino's attempt to join into the space race. However, despite the pride being expressed by most Filipinos, it was also quite late though especially for a frustrated western country as compared to its neighbours that launched their satellites earlier than 1997; knowing that the Philippines, little brown brother, favorite of the west,  tries to appear "capable" of having "modern this, modern that", as well as having "National Scientists" and others capable as well as willing to invest their knowledge, skill in improving existing technologies and strengthening, making new foundations in spirit of self reliance.

Yet instead, after it was sold to private, foreign owned telecommunications interests last 2009, it chose to be a hostage to the whims of its neighbours, who were at once looking at the Philippines as an example of a developed society. But in reality, it is no, as in completely no to consider the Philippines as "developed" nor even "progressive"; for citing its semifeudal, semicolonial policies that hinder genuine national development, particularly those of a Compradore's emphasis on trade and commerce (such as buying imported "modern gadgets") and reluctance over those of production and industry (that made technological advancements happen), then these people claiming to see "progress" and "development" in an actually existing backward society (amidst the modern infrastructure and modern gadgets) gave a concrete illusion that was bought and sold such as a satellite flown in another country.
Personally, if not mistaken, were there any Filipino technician, engineer who directly participated in that said project besides those from Space Systems/Loral? And if there was, then how come they aren't being recognized as national scientists the way other countries took pride in its own? Are they open for reviving another Aguila or by any other name? Remember, Indonesia has nine satellites; Malaysia has four; Singapore, nine; and Thailand, five. Even Vietnam now controls and profitably operates its own satellite and had launched a second last 2012.

Well, in failing to assert self reliance and cultivating growth and innovation, then what most people heard about progress, stability, prosperity, or any other word trying to present in the Philippines or any other developing country is almost a mere rhetoric likely to be debunked. Failing in a sense that production, particularly those of industrialisation is less stimulated in favour of just depending on outside investment "as if it provides stronger over existing foundations of the domestic economy"; as well as failing to innovate, of cultivating creativity despite clamoring for development. Ramos's "Philippines 2000" was just one of the plans whose primary intention is to steer further the policies of multinational and transnational interests, all in the name of Liberalization and Globalization. 

It may sound pessimistic, rather than optimistic for a writer saying about what goes about "Progress" and "Development". Given the semifeudal, semicolonial nature, national development is limited to those of what is presented by developed countries through its international lending agencies and its policies, as well as domestic compradores whose primary goal is to carry on their interests and not to be disrupted by other proposals besides theirs, no matter how beneficial the proposal it is; or rather say in simple questions like, "how come it may not sound pessimistic if the fruits of so-called development caters to the privileged few?" No wonder why compradores can't even invest full, instead of partial, or a quarter just to steer further development just like they did for Aguila II, or if they do, just to gain more for themsleves and not for the most in case of the one who got funds coming from both government subsidies and private income."
No offense to those yearning for another satellite like Aguila, but if this writer may ask, when will technology, amidst having factories where microchips where made at Laguna's technoparks, Mapuans or Iskós making robots, and experiments made by the Science and Technology Department, be further cultivated in order to revive lost aspirations such as reaching the stars and creating a better world? Again, given the interests of the ruling class, domestic-based technology remains in its embryonic, experimental stage besides herbal concoctions being sold at bazzars and trade fairs.

Perhaps, technology in the Philippines is limited to those of what is being seen at Bato-Balani magazines if not in one's feeble imagination. The satellite that was once take pride of and eventually sold, continues to deteriorate and becomes a space junk, leaving some Filipinos memories of a country "trying hard to be called 'great'".


The correct term would be "Agila" but this writer uses the old, Hispanic term originally referring to the Philippine Eagle.