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Science for the People, Science for Change

Between politics and science & technology, politics won that day. At least, if one were to base it on media coverage and subsequent media reports.

At the President’s home city of Davao, the 2018 National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) unfolded with a pre-event at the SMX Davao Convention Center, with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte as guest of honor.

The NSTW is the jewel in the annual efforts of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to spread the word and make known to the public the accomplishments of the scientific community—whether in terms of science and technology (S&T) education, completed research projects, technologies transferred, as well as communities and firms assisted through S&T intervention.

But the flurry of news that came after this pre-event focused on the President’s rants on God, graft and corruption, the communist insurgency, and the Moro problem.

Still, Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña remained unfazed. Unreported by the established media, the President toured the day’s array of exhibits, going to the extent of asking an inventor for his calling card.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte huddles with Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña (second from left) and Dr. Carlo Arcilla (leftmost), director of DOST-Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), and Dr. Lucille Abad (rightmost), also of DOST-PNRI, to have a closer view of the Institute’s project on radiation-modified carrageenan as an effective plant growth promoter for rice, monggo, peanuts, and other plants

Duterte showed interest in a project that allowed the cleaning of septic water before it reached the sea. The inventor said it was meant for informal settler communities, public markets, and areas for reclamation.

The President responded by saying that with adjustments, the project could be used in Boracay.

Duterte talked to other exhibitors, taking more than passing notice for projects that addressed earthquakes, flooding, and food security. One scientist told the President how the seaweed extract carrageenan can increase rice production by 30%.

S&T IS INNOVATION

In his speech, Duterte recognized the value of Science and Technology in improving people’s lives.

“Science and Technology, it’s innovation. You innovate now or you perish. That’s not invention, actually, the proper term now is innovation. If we do not innovate in our lives, in all forms, we will have a hard time (and) this next generation,” Duterte said.

He added that his administration’s priority is to provide a secure life for the Filipino. “Rest assured that you have my full support in empowering individuals and in bringing our country toward greater heights. I trust that you will be with me as we work together in establishing a better and brighter future for all,” Duterte said.

According to de la Peña, improving the people’s lives is a call that is imbedded in the overall direction of DOST under the Duterte administration.

“He (Duterte) would always stress that he wants to lift the standards of living of the Fiilipino people; that he wants inequality to be lessened by giving new opportunities to the people, thereby expanding the potential for national growth,” de la Peña said.

It is the first time, he added, that Science and Technology was included in the President’s 10-point development agenda and given a full chapter in the Philippine Development Plan.

De la Peña said that in response, the DOST has increased its involvement in the regions in order to address their needs with greater speed.

S&T IS CHANGE

The Science Secretary bared that, “Science for Change” is their agency’s strategy for implementing the goal of collective prosperity.

 The Philippines, represented by Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña, teams up with Thailand, represented by the Ministry of Science and Technology Minister Atchaka Sibunruang to promote and develop eight areas of science and technology (S&T) in both countries “as a way of moving forward.” Photo taken during a ministerial meeting in Bangkok, Thailand

“There are many ways for achieving this. For example, we are empowering research centers in different parts of the country, whereas before it was limited to a few research centers in the big universities and in the big national agencies.”

He added that these research centers are situated in areas recognized for their “specialties which the DOST would like to encourage and support, because these specialties will contribute toward development and ultimately, in the generation of economic activity.”

To date, area specialization has extended to North and South of the Philippines, most notable of which are in the fields of citrus research (Nueva Vizcaya State University), aquaculture—with research on ludong, the country’s most expensive food fish at P6,000 per kilo (Isabela State University), crustaceans (Samar State University), mollusks (UP Miag-ao), and biodiversity (Cebu Technological University), among others.

“Our policy is ‘only one in an area.’ If we have already designated a research center for biodiversity, for example, we will not designate any other (for that specialization),” de la Peña said.

He added that “Science for Change” is also committed to encouraging business enterprises to collaborate with these research institutions for projects that will address their problems or lead to innovation that again, will generate economic activity and employment.

SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAMS

Over the years, DOST has directed its scholarship programs to reduce inequality. “95% of our DOST scholars in the undergraduate program are below the poverty level. We have proven that every DOST scholar who graduates can lift their family out of poverty.”

This year, the agency has 9,000 new scholars. Only less than 1,000 are from the above poverty level.

De la Peña mentioned that under the Science and Technology Act of 1994 (Republic Act 7687), the DOST has to get one scholar from each of the country’s 1,489 municipalities.

Last year, 60 municipalities did not have scholars because the said towns had no high schools or were situated in areas that were very inaccessible.

This year, the DOST has reduced the number to 52, for a 97% coverage of municipal scholars

For 2018, the DOST has a total of 9,000 scholars from the undergraduate to the PhD levels, an almost 80% increase from last year. Allowances have similarly increased, from P5,000 per month to P7,000 a month.

MAIN MAN

At 69, de la Peña has been with DOST for the last 22 years. He is perhaps, the only Science secretary who has served at the DOST in various capacities under five Presidents—planning chief (late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos), head of the Technology Applications and Promotions Institute (late Pres. Corazon Aquino), Undersecretary (former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), Undersecretary (former Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III) and Secretary (Pres. Rodrigo Duterte)

Last June 26, de la Peña was conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree by his alma mater, the University of the Philippines.

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