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Commentary

Scientists calling for accountability, truth

/ 12:14 AM August 23, 2014

In the current crisis the Aquino administration is facing, the country’s scientists, technologists, ICT professionals, and engineers join the nation in demanding accountability, transparency, truth and integrity in government.

In the four years President Aquino has been in office, we have not seen from his administration any comprehensive national industrialization policy aiming to improve the country’s science and technology (S&T). The 2014 budget of the Department of Science and Technology (around P12 billion) is only 0.1 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP). This figure is still way below the Unesco prescription of allocating at least 1 percent of a developing country’s GDP for research and development.

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This historically low priority given by government, past and present, for S&T development has opened little opportunities for S&T professionals. The clamor of Pagasa employees for the release of their incentive pay, as provided by the Magna Carta for Scientists, Engineers, Researchers and other Technology Personnel in government, therefore, came as no surprise given that at least 33 of them have left to work abroad since 2005. This persistent brain drain problem manifested by the mass exodus of Pagasa personnel can be attributed to their miniscule salary and delayed hazard pay and benefits.

The government tried to justify the Disbursement Acceleration Program by citing the funds it gave to the Dream and Admatel projects under the DOST. While we acknowledge the importance of funding programs like disaster mitigation and technology capacity buildup, this should not come just as an afterthought for the government or be subject to the whims of a few. It should also not be carried out at the expense of other projects.

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On top of the poor budget allocation for science and technology, scientists continue to face daily dangers in their jobs.

Until now, the case of the country’s top botanist has not been resolved. Leonard Co, along with four companions, was doing research work for the Energy Development Corp. in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga in Leyte province on Nov. 15, 2010, when they were fired upon by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 19th Infantry Battalion who mistook them for members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Co and two of his companions were killed.

On Oct. 5, 2013, physicist Kim Gargar, while undertaking a research in connection with rehabilitation efforts on the impacts of Typhoon “Pablo” in Cateel, Davao Oriental, fell on a gorge when he heard shots being fired between government soldiers and NPA rebels. He was found with a broken leg two kilometers away from the encounter by elements of the 67th IB, then was arrested; trumped-up charges were filed against him and he is still detained in Bagangga, Davao Oriental.

In this context, scientists, technologists, ICT professionals and engineers are uniting with the growing number of people calling for the following:

1. The outright removal of all pork barrel both in the legislative and executive branches. We shall endeavor to undertake initiatives that seek to rechannel the pork barrel for additional budget for social services, environmental sustainability, and other important projects and programs in the General Appropriations Act passed yearly by Congress.

2. Adequate attention for the S&T sector and regular budget allocation of at least 1 percent of our GDP as state subsidy for scientific research and development, basic social services and environmental protection and rehabilitation. We call on the government to protect Filipino scientists and provide for the necessary support and infrastructure to harness their capacity to address local problems and contribute to domestic industrialization.

We unite with other S&T professionals and advocates involved in education, research, campaign promoting clean governance, seeking the abolition of all forms of corruption, and pushing for S&T as a strategy for national development.

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Dr. Giovanni Tapang is chair of the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham).

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TAGS: Commentary, Giovanni Tapang, opinion, science and technology, scientists
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