By EDD K. USMAN, SDN, Twitter @edd1819
Figures from the United Nations circa 2017 show that Malaysia has 2,017 researchers per a million inhabitants; Thailand, 973 researchers; Vietnam, 674 researchers; and Brunei, 286 researchers. The Philippines with 270 researchers per one million inhabitants, needs to catch up with its four ASEAN neighbors.
(SDN) — IT is no secret the Philippines is playing catch up with some of its neighbors in the number of researchers, engineers, and scientists (RES).
“Neighbors” refer to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprised of, aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Note that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has advocated a benchmark on the number of RES for each country at 380 per million population.
As of 2017, the Philippines has a ratio of 270 RES per one million Filipinos (it’s now 2019 so the number may have already improved). Oft-cited total Philippine population is at 105 million.
In relation with this, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) reiterated this lack of experts on science and technology (S&T) in the country.
DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña, himself an engineer, emphasized this on Wednesday, July 10, at the 41st Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) organized by its National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST PHL).
He mentioned this in relation with the third topic of the two-day ASM at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, which “is on the issue of talent and human resources.”
De la Peña noted the Philippines’ more than 100 million population, saying it is one of the world’s largest.
The DOST secretary, Eng’r Fortunato T. de la Peña. (Photo: SDN)
“We have a booming services sector and construction sector, thanks to the Build Build Build Program of President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte’s administration,” the DOST chief cited.
But here’s the catch.
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“However, we have encountered challenges in relation with our human resources development and talent retention.
“We have an insufficient number of experts in Science and Technology (S&T),” said de la Peña.
There’s light at the end of the S&T tunnel, though. The DOST is addressing this concern through one of its agencies.
“In light of this issue, the DOST, through the Science Education Institute or SEI, has embarked on a journey to aid in marshaling our science and technology human resources pool,” he pointed out.
One of the ways that he mentioned is the DOST-SEI’s Filipino Patriot Scholars Project.
“We have oriented Filipino S&T scholars, inculcated in them a sense of patriotism, professional excellence, social responsibility and servant leadership, and gave them opportunities to interact with the community that we prepare them to serve.”
The various scholarship programs of the DOST-SEI have been funding scholars in Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate Degree. Scholars are into different S&T fields which is being implemented in partnership with the country’s top schools “to develop our talent pool in S&T.”
Part of the efforts to strengthen and populate the pool of experts is the Balik Scientist Act, which de la Peña said has made big strides in bringing back RES “and help them serve our countrymen.”
The DOST secretary also delved on the difficulties posed by the procurement law to scientists and researchers. He echoed the President’s “views that a review of the procurement law must be done in order to address these issues.”
De la Peña said the three topics of the 41st ASM are plastic pollution; sustainable marine food security; and sustainable education, talent development, and retention.
NAST PHL chose the theme “Caring for the Country’s Carrying Capacity” for the 41st ASM.
Academician Rhodora V. Azanza, NAST PHL president, recalled in her welcome remarks the agency’s mandate, which is “to advise the President and his Cabinet, as well as the legislative branch of the government, on matters related to science and technology.”
Academician Rhodora V. Azanza, president of NAST PHL. (Photo: SDN)
She also cited that rthe achievement of the United Nations-led Sustainable Development Goals or SDGS as an important area of concern to the country.
Azanza said the SDGs “are part of a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people experience peace and prosperity.”
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The NAST PHL president emphasized the undeniable role of S&T in strengthening a country’s economic and national development.
“We recognize the importance of integrating S&T with the government’s efforts to attain inclusive growth, protection of the environment, and global competitiveness,” said Azanza.
“I am pleased to report that NAST PHL has been resolute in its initiatives that contribute to nation-building through S&T. In fact, the Academy has been steadfast in providing scientific advice about pressing issues and concerns. This includes supporting initiatives that will ensure that the SDGs will be met by 2030.”
Meanwhile, the keynote speaker for the 41st ASM, Dr. Andrew H.J. Wang, distinguished visiting chair, Institute of Biological Chemistry, Academia Sinica, of Taiwan, gave eight cooperation opportunities where his country and the Philippines can work together.
He said these are in education (K-12 plus post-graduate); infrastructure sharing; interdisciplinary talent cultivation; medical care and public health systems; next-generation biotechnologies (drugs, devices, cell therapies); agriculture biotechnology; environment mitigation; and science promotion to the public.
The Taiwanese educator “urged our governments to strengthen education…to make a country strong you need an educated public.”
Wang said that to strengthen education there is a need for government empowerment, sustained funding support, talent cultivation, encouragement and rewarding of participants, positiveness towards regulations, and strengthening of international cooperation.
Azanza said the 41st ASM discusses three SDG-related goals, such as Goal 4 — Quality Education; Goal 12 — Responsible Consumption and Production; and Goal 14 — Life Below Water which are geared towards, as de la Peña earlier mentioned, pollution of plastic in the ocean, marine food security, and education.
She asked: “What makes these issues urgent?
“Let me cite an example. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives or GAIA (ga-ya) Philippines audit showed a shocking truth: we Filipinos use nearly 60 billion sachets a year.
“The same report revealed that we use nearly 48 million pieces of a whopping 45 tons of trash in one day, mostly plastic wrappers and sachets, from the Manila Bay during the government’s continuing cleanup drive.”
DOST regional officials graced the 41st ASM, among them, Undersecretary Dr. Rowena Cristina Guevara (at the back) and Dr. Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan (3rd left), DOST XII regional director, and others. (Photo: SDN)
NAST PHL one resolute gov’t agency
If that is not problem enough, the NAST PHL president said a host of issues also hound the country’s “blue economy,” which she explained is “our sea-based, our marine-based economic sector…aquaculture and capture fisheries, tourism, and coastal development, among others.”
Further, Azanza pointed to talent development and retention as another pressing concern of the country, more so in the S&T field.
“We encountered some issues as some of our highly-talented experts and scientists are driven away by a hyper-regulated working environment, drawing from the strict governance mode such as the procurement law.
“We have to note that our scientists have had issues in acquiring equipment and materials due to very strict government regulations, that consequently, hampers their productivity and our research system as a whole.”
On a positive note, the NAST PHL president, saying the Academy’s “efforts have been fruitful.”
Azanza said cited one example, Senator Sonny Angara’s Resolution 1017 passed a few months ago at the time of the 17th Congress, which is a Senate Inquiry on the Philippine Blue Economy.
She assured of NAST PHL’s constancy of purpose.
“We will try to review our accomplishments and needs in relation to the SDGs, identify opportunities for sustainability and inclusive growth, and plan actions and reforms through a bottom-up approach to find solutions to stifling barriers to development.” (SDN)