Two good laws
President Duterte signed two significant new laws last month: Republic Act No. 11035 or the Balik Scientist Act, and RA 11036 or the Philippine Mental Health Act.
The Balik Scientist Act aims to lure Filipino scientists, inventors, engineers, and experts in research and development and science and technology (S&T) to return to and resume work in the Philippines by offering them grants and tax and duty incentives. About 16,000 S&T workers left the country annually from 1998-2009, according to a 2011 study of the Science Education Institute. That figure has only increased in the past decade, creating a brain drain that, experts warn, could negatively impact national development. Today, the Philippines has only 189 scientists per million, badly lagging behind other countries; the ideal ratio is 380 per million.
The role these experts play in national development through their research, skills and innovations is important, especially for developing countries like the Philippines that has vast natural resources but limited technology and know-how. The Department of Science and Technology may already have a model case in two scientists—Adrian Salces and Joven Javier—who built the first Filipino-made cube satellite that was launched earlier this week, and sparked hopes that the Philippines could build its next satellites locally.
Salces and Javier, who are students in space engineering at Kyushu Institute of Technology in Fukuoka, Japan, plan to return to the University of the Philippines to teach and to share with Filipino students and engineers what they have learned abroad.
RA 11035 has identified space technology as one of the areas where Filipino scientists can make significant contributions. The others are artificial intelligence, disaster mitigation and management, biotechnology, energy, agriculture and food, biomedical engineering, information and communications technology, environment and natural resources, electronics, health, and genomics.
With this law, Filipino experts lured by higher pay and better opportunities and recognition overseas now have greater incentive to return home and contribute their talents to the nation.
Another important new law is RA 11036, which integrates mental health care in the country’s public healthcare system. This entails providing health services down to the barangays, and integrating psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services in regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the law’s principal authors, said RA 11036 does not only focus on treating those with mental health problems, but also in educating the public about them and helping engender a major cultural shift in the way mental health is treated and addressed.
An important provision requires the Department of Health to coordinate with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth in ensuring that patients with mental health conditions are covered by insurance packages. In the Philippines, where majority struggle to put food on the table, treating mental illness is often seen as only for the rich. It is also seen as a source of shame, with families ignoring problems related to mental health because of the stigma attached to it. In some cases, it is dismissed as “gawa-gawa lang” (made-up), like how a well-known comedian dismissed depression on a long-running noontime TV show. The law seeks to address that outdated mindset through provisions that seek to counter stigma and discrimination in schools and workplaces.
These laws are steps in the right direction. But, to be truly beneficial to society, they need to be fleshed out and implemented. It is now up to the responsible state agencies and institutions to put into action the vision they embody: that people—by rewarding their skills and talents, and ensuring their mental wellbeing—are vital to the Philippines’ development and progress.
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