PAGASA to buy an atomic clock worth P50 million

AFP file photo

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s state weather bureau is about to buy a clock worth more than P50 million expected for delivery next year.

Mario Raymundo, chief of the Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, called the proposal his “most ambitious project.” The proposal involves the purchase of three top-of-the-line caesium atomic clocks, which will be the country’s first.

Raymundo told that the winning proposal of a bidder is now under evaluation. If all goes well, the atomic clocks may be slated for delivery by next year.

Raymundo said that atomic clocks are so precise up to the nanosecond level that it will take 30 million years for them to lose a second.

At present, the country’s timekeeping equipment is only precise up to the microsecond level. It costs P1.7 million and according to Raymundo, “is usually only used for a hotel, a shipping line, or an airport, not an entire country.”

“Usual laboratories in other countries have atomic clocks. They have the capacity to say that the time they are broadcasting to the public comes from that laboratory,” Raymundo told “Pangit tignan ‘yun para sa atin bilang malayang bansa na maganda ang ekonomiyang sinasabi, pero iyan lang hindi mo magawan ng paraan. Parang napaka-pangit.”

UTC contributor

Raymundo said that buying the equipment will also entail the Philippines to have our own primary frequency standard that we could contribute to the universal coordinated time, more known as UTC, and be at par with other contributing countries such as the US, Australia, China and Japan.

“All of them have a laboratory that can contribute to the coordinated universal time. We don’t have that,” Raymundo said. “Once we get the atomic clock we will become a direct contributor to the coordinate universal time. Probably it will be called UTC-PHL, and that is where our Philippine Standard Time will also come from.”

Raymundo said to be a direct contributor to UTC, it is vital to buy three caesium clocks instead of one, which costs P42 million.

“At the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France, you need to have at least three caesium clocks to be a director contributor to UTC kaya pinatulan ko na ‘yung P50 million instead of P42 million,” Raymundo said.

In addition, Raymundo said that the passage of Republic Act 10535 or The Philippine Standard Time Act of 2013 last year also underscored the need to buy such equipment under Section 4 of the said Republic Act.

“It was my proposal, my idea. But kaya rin naaprubahan ‘yun ay dahil may batas na tayo,” Raymundo said.

With the law, Raymundo said that the country cannot afford to just base time on other countries that have their own atomic clocks.

“Hindi puwede sa isang bansa na nangongopya ka lang ng oras ng may oras,” Raymundo said.


Raymundo admitted the general public may not benefit much from the purchase of the atomic clocks. Rather, the equipment will benefit high-value industries such as aviation, shipping, electric utilities, and even media and telecom companies.

“Usually, the largest body of users of precise and accurate timing techniques is thought to be within the areas of navigation (including position determination) and communication system (including radio, TV, video, multimedia, telephone, cellular, internet, etc).,” Raymundo wrote in his project proposal submitted to the Department of Science and Technology.

Raymundo explained that for a utility such as the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, accurate time means a more immediate response to system anomalies.

“The power supply could be affected if there is inaccurate time. And if you translate that, of course time is money,” Raymundo said.

But aside from money, time also means lives for state agencies such as PAGASA and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

“For Phivolcs, it’s very important that their time is accurate especially in the determination of the epicenter. And of course with PAGASA, a more accurate time means a good snapshot of the atmosphere,” Raymundo said. “It is important in terms of disasters such as an impending storm because if you say that a storm will arrive at this hour, buhay na ang katapat noon.”