Science, politics, and people | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Science, politics, and people

/ 05:05 AM March 13, 2021

Last March 10, I spoke, by invitation, at a session of the annual scientific conference of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), on “Bridging Science, Politics, and People in Research.” The NRCP gave the title; I accepted.

The relevance of survey memory. Past rounds of the International Social Survey Program (in which SWS represents the Philippines) show that: (a) Most people in the world regard science as beneficial rather than harmful; Filipinos, however, are relatively fearful of its harmful effects; and (b) Most people in the world expect their ways of life to change as science is applied to environmental problems; Filipinos, however, expect science to work without changing their ways of life.


Seeing great contrasts with other peoples teaches us more about ourselves. I had presented these findings in 2018, at a forum of future science leaders held by the National Academy of Science and Technology. These attitudes cause difficulties in coping with the present pandemic.

Filipinos are historically very fearful of virus infection. SWS surveys on SARS in 2003, bird flu in 2004 and 2006, swine flu in 2009, and Ebola in 2014 showed that 50 to 60 percent were worried a great deal about these viruses. In 2020, with COVID-19, the intense fearfulness became 65 to 75 percent.


The great majority of Filipinos have followed the protocols of washing, masking, and distancing, and stayed away from work as much as they can. They became dependent on ayuda (the amelioration dole), which was not financially sustainable.

Medical suffering is in the thousands, far outnumbered by economic suffering, which is in the millions. The 591,000 COVID-19 cases (as of 3/6/21, Department of Health data) is about one-half of 1 percent of the population. Of this one-half of 1 percent, 90.6 percent (536,300 persons) recovered, 7.3 percent (43,300 persons) are active, and 2.1 percent (12,400 persons) died.

On the other hand, households—not individuals—that suffered hunger in 2020 were 21.1 percent (average of the SWS surveys, a new peak since 1998) of the 24-plus million households of the country. Severe hunger (suffered often/always in the past quarter) was 5.0 percent, or 1.2 million households. But there have been no Philippine Statistics Authority figures on hunger for many years.

The SWS adult joblessness rate hit an all-time peak of 45 percent last July (men 36, women 56), easing slightly to 27 percent by November (men 22, women 34).

The main political factor is the people’s antipathy toward China. Surveys show consistent, long-term, distrust of China, in contrast to trust in the United States. Popular resistance to Chinese-origin vaccinations is obviously related to China’s bullying of the country and the administration’s slavish acquiescence to it.

Many policy directives have biases not founded on science. Hand-washing, masking, and non-crowding can be done without harming livelihoods. The great majority of Filipinos do follow these protocols. Why hamper work at night, or on the street, or in the open? Why prevent youths and seniors from adding to family income? Why restrict operation of jeepneys and buses?

The way forward is to acquire the means to produce our own medicines and vaccines. The Unesco norm of 1 percent of GDP for Research and Development has been forgotten by our planners. The percentage of Philippine GDP spent on R&D is a pitiful 0.16, compared to 0.23 in Indonesia, 0.53 in Vietnam, 0.65 in India, 1.00 in Thailand, 1.94 in Singapore, 2.19 in China, 2.84 in the United States, 3.09 in Germany, 3.26 in Japan, 4.81 in South Korea, and 4.95 in Israel (


While the country lacks its own scientific capacity, is it any wonder that the main advice the government gives the people is to WAIT, WAIT, WAIT?


Contact [email protected] My NRCP talk is at

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TAGS: and People in Research, annual scientific conference of the National Research Council of the Philippines, Bridging Science, International Social Survey Program, NRCP, politics
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