MANILA, Philippines—When President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., in his second state of the nation address, emphasized a program to entice Filipino scientists to return to the Philippines, a group of scientists and Science did not mince words in its criticism. .
The Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), a group of Filipino scientists and advocates, said the emphasis placed on the second Sona in the program to bring Filipino scientists back illustrated a “tactic of weaving truth out of means hiding behind absolute numbers.”
Agham said the lack of factual basis for some of Marcos Jr’s statements was an attempt to mask the government’s “deficiencies and futility.”
The group pointed out what it said was the insufficiency and insincerity of the Balik Scientific Program, which Marcos Jr. highlighted in his second Sona.
“To meet the challenge of staying at the forefront of technology, 44 renowned Filipino scientists in various areas of expertise have returned home under the Balik-Scientist Program,” the president said.
“They will carry out research in several priority fields and will be supported by improved facilities and (research and development) (R&D) funding,” he added.
READ: SONA 2023: Full speech by President Bongbong Marcos
Agham said the government romanticizes the program too much to highlight the benefits to Filipinos without claiming it is a program trying to recoup what the country has lost due to what the group said was willful government neglect of Filipino scientists. .
“It is commendable that Filipino scientists, because of their inherent love for our country, continue to come back and serve,” Agham President Chuckie Calsado said.
“(But) we must not be remiss in our analysis that the Balik Scientist Program arises from the historical neglect of Filipino scientists burdened by late payments, job insecurity, and lack of opportunities forcing them to leave the country,” added Calsado.
Balik Scientific Program
On June 15, 2018, then-President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Law No. 11035, or the Balik Scientist Law.
According to the then Sen. Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, lead author of the measure, the Balik Scientists Act would institutionalize the Balik Scientists Program, which was first launched in 1975.
The law aims to “bring back Filipino scientists, engineers, and tech entrepreneurs to work in various fields, including health, food and agriculture, information and communications technology (ICT), and even alternative energy.” ”.
READ: Senate passes ‘Balik Scientist’ bill in final reading
Based on the applicable rules and regulations (IRR) Under the Balik Scientists Act drawn up by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), all “Balik Scientists” under short-, medium-, or long-term engagements will be eligible for general benefits, incentives, and privileges.
Last year, Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum said the proposed Philippine Institute of Virology (VIP), the country’s own virology and vaccine research center, would harness the ingenuity and experience of Filipino scientists abroad to help the country “fully develop” the institute through the Balik Science Program.
READ: Institute of virology PH: What to know
Growing recognition, reduced budget
Days before Marcos Jr. delivered this year’s Sona, Agham recalled how the president portrayed himself as a ‘frustrated scientist’ and the several statements he made a year ago about prioritizing scientific research and development since he took office. The charge.
“These include a commitment to coordinate research and development (R&D) efforts between agencies to ensure it directly addresses the needs of Filipinos, encouraging scientists to stay in the country by saying opportunities will be available to them, and ask interested agencies to provide more scholarships to Filipino students,” the group said.
The group referred to Marcos Jr.’s keynote speech at the opening of the 8th Annual Balik Scientists’ Convention in October last year, where he called himself a “frustrated scientist”.
“I am a frustrated scientist. My entire school career was dedicated to science, and it was only towards the end that my father explained to me that the field is difficult, you will not get rich,” said Marcos Jr.
READ: ‘Frustrated scientist’ Bongbong Marcos cites benefits of science and technology
Agham, however, noted that research and development had not seen significant improvement despite the president’s “big” pronouncements.
The group explained that the budget allocated for research and development has been constantly decreasing. It fell to $17.9 billion or 0.3 percent of the national budget for 2023 from $23.8 billion of earmarked R&D spending in 2021.
Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) It showed that the national budget for the advancement of R&D in different sectors by 2023 amounted to a total of ₱18.6 billion.
DBM explained that this allocation includes the budget for R&D of the sectors of general public services, defense, public order and security, economic affairs, environmental protection, health, recreation, culture and religion, education and social protection.
“Science and technology workers are directly affected by this situation, as evidenced by the prevalence of back wages among research assistants at institutions like the University of the Philippines,” Agham said.
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