Promoting science for all

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“With the signing of the Balik Scientist Act, Filipino scientists, experts, inventors and engineers will now have the opportunity to come back to the country.”

In today’s economy, knowledge in science and technology plays a crucial role in securing progress and development. If nations do not have a strong science and technology program, it would be very difficult for them to compete in the world stage, let alone sustain the demands of their population.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a country needs 380 scientists per 1 million population. We only have fewer than 200. We need roughly more than 19,000 scientists to keep up with the likes of Malaysia with over 2,000 scientists per 1 million population.

The Philippine scientific landscape is still robust, yet we have already been left behind even by our Asian neighbors. For the longest time, we have been ranking low in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects and the passion for these has been running low, too. This needs to change.

President Rodrigo Duterte understands this, which is why he included the promotion of science and technology in his 10-point socioeconomic agenda in order to enhance our competitiveness. And just last month, the country took a huge step in fulfilling this promise.

With the signing of the Balik Scientist Act, Filipino scientists, experts, inventors and engineers will now have the opportunity to come back to the country and serve the people through the incentives and assistance provided by the newly signed law. Its passage is timely as we are also celebrating the National Science and Technology Week.

Key provisions of the Balik Scientist Act include free medical and accident insurance covering the award period of the returning scientist. The tax and duty in imported professional equipment will also be waived. Balik Scientists will be exempted from “renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath,” and they will also be assisted or subsidized with their visa applications as well as given relocation benefits. They can participate in various Department of Science and Technology (DoST) grants and projects.

With the Balik Scientist Act, we hope to encourage more Filipino scientists to stay and contribute to the advancement of the country. This demonstrates to our brilliant minds and young scientists that we care about them and that the country is a good place for them to unleash their potential in the realm of science and technology. This also addresses the problem of brain drain that has been happening over the past few decades.

The government, led by DoST, has also been working tirelessly to promote science and technology all over the country. In our schools, they have been providing science-related tools such as a digital library called the Science and Technology Academic and Research-Based Openly Operated Kiosk System (STARBOOKS) that gives accessibility to science articles, journals and resources for students and teachers who don’t have access to them.
Another program of the department is encouraging and assisting MSMEs in using technology for their business ventures. This is a direct application of science to everyday life.

Every Filipino must realize that all modern technologies we enjoy—from cellphones, cars, computers and the Internet — are all products of science. While we are adept at using these technologies, we also want Filipinos to contribute to the sciences through inventions and research from which everyone can benefit.

It will take some time to achieve these long-term goals, but I am certain that we are on the right track.

“Balik Scientists will be exempted from ‘renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath.’”

Blast from the past: On July 9, 1985, Arturo Pineda Alcaraz won the IBM Science and Technology Award for his works on geothermal energy. Alcaraz used his vast and extensive knowledge as a volcanologist to harness geothermal steam to produce electricity. For this, he is known as the country’s “father of geothermal energy development.”

His successful demonstration of geothermal power in 1967 was a milestone in the Philippine history. Because of his pioneering research, the country is now among the world’s leaders in terms of geothermal energy production.

Indeed, as the case with Arturo Alcaraz, if we take care of our scientists, the nation will prosper. It is our hope that more Filipinos will support our efforts to advance the sciences and that more of our young people will take greater interest in the field of science and technology.

p: wjg

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