Q&A with Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña
The National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) started in the 1950s to confer recognition to the country’s outstanding scientists and to highlight scientific accomplishments in various fields.
This year, the NSTW has for its theme: “Innovation for Collective Prosperity,” under the broad vision of “Science for the People.”
The Philippines Graphic takes its readers to the 2018 NSTW with this exclusive interview with Science Secretary Fortunato De la Peña.
PHILIPPINES GRAPHIC: How different is this year’s celebration from the previous years?
SEC. FORTUNATO DE LA PENA: Well, one of its uniqueness is that we are holding an advanced regional celebration in Mindanao. Because I thought this might be the best opportunity to invite the President. Sometimes, he designates a representative to come to our national celebration. So I thought if we held it in Davao, he might have an easier time to decide to go. And true enough, when we decided to hold an advanced celebration in Mindanao, he accepted the invitation. So, on Friday, July 6, he will be there.
The other thing of course is that we have organized our exhibits, not in the usual research and development, technology transfer, human resource development, etc. This year, we categorized it into science and technology in the home, science and technology in the school, science and technology in the workplace, science and technology in the marketplace—so that the people can easily relate.
What are the most important events, activities, or innovations presented in the NSTW this year?
Well as I said, it is divided along phases of life. For science & technology in the home, for example, there are research results that are relevant to what we do at home. Like, we have breakthroughs in the research for native livestock. So, we are now encouraging the growing of native chicken, native ducks, native pigs at a larger scale. And to me that is related to home because you cook.
Then, of course, you have the new developments in health because at home, you get sick, you need wellness, and so these developments in drug discovery are related. The diagnostics are important. Even the use of information and communication technology for health is important.
When you go to the Science & Technology in school, you can see the new technological innovation for education or even the new modules that have been developed by our science educators.
If you go to Science & Technology in the workplace, we have our exhibit on our trains, transportation, and even some of the local applications of softwares that have been developed, and those that are related to the farm as a workplace, and to the manufacturing company as a workplace.
And then you go to Science & Technology in the marketplace, these are the innovative products that came out of our innovation centers that have been produced by our small and medium enterprises.
What are the benefits of the NSTW for the country and for the ordinary Filipino?
I think that for the country, this is an opportunity for example for those who are thinking of making some investments, let’s say, people who have savings or companies which are already in existence but would like to expand their product lines, to take a look and know what are the recent mature technologies that can be translated into businesses.
For the ordinary person, of course, there are other important things that you can learn like in the outcome of our researches for health, for example, where you can see that there is now a diagnostic kit for the rapid detection of dengue—the Biotek-M, which recently won a gold in Geneva (Switzerland), and you can see that there is such a thing as Newly Standardized Herbal Medicine. So, before we had lagundi, now we have sambong. People will know that there are alternatives to synthetic drugs.
And most importantly, for Filipinos who have children, they will see what are the opportunities for scholarships for schools like the Philippine Science High School and in the Science Education Institute for the B.S., M.S., and PhD.
What are the future plans for NSTW and for DOST in general?
We will still keep the NSTW’s overarching theme of science for the people. For DOST, we would like to produce results that can be translated into real benefits, meaning to say results that can be felt by the people. So, for example, if in agriculture our target is to raise productivity by using technology which we now call as “smart agriculture,” we hope that we can show within the period that we are serving these benefits.
In the area of health, my favorite is the drug discovery and development program. We are now following two tracks: One is the traditional, where we already know that this plant is a cure for this ailment. Because of the traditions that we have. Old folks already know the uses of these plants. Still, we need to standardize, test for toxicity, and develop the dosage in the usual forms of tablets or syrups, which can easily be dispensed. Of course, this track will still have to undergo the clinical trials stage.
The other track, for which we are very hopeful here is in the area of discovery and development. We are looking into plants and even non-plants (organisms found in the sea) and to see if they have active ingredients, that can be used, without identifying the active ingredient. We can sell the technology to drug manufacturers, who will continue to develop it into actual drugs.
What is your projection for STI in the country in the next 10 to 20 years?
It’s not a projection but a target. In many instances, if there are a hundred countries that are ranked, we are usually in the middle. If there are 150 countries, we are at 75, something like that.
We would like that within the next five to 10 years, we will be at the top 33% or top 1/3.
Of course, we need a bigger budget. We need a more effective governance. There will be no wastage in the money that we are putting out so that the researches will have a common direction by utilizing to the fullest our competent manpower. And that includes Filipino scientists from abroad.