Is Change Really Coming? The Role Of Science In The Duterte Administration

It remains to be seen if Philippines president-elect Rodrigo Duterte will shine a spotlight on science and technology when he assumes office on June 30.

AsianScientist (Jun. 8, 2016) – On June 30, the Philippines will formally welcome its new president. Hopes are high when the government is new. The campaign theme of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte? ‘Change Is Coming.’

While studies have shown that science and technology are key drivers of economic growth, will the importance of investing into research and development be communicated in the upcoming Philippine leadership? There are piles of issues the next Philippine president will have to face, such as wide-scale corruption, poverty, criminality and insurgency, vulnerability to natural disasters and the impact of climate change. All of this plus ASEAN relations and the growing assertiveness of China in its territorial claims and foreign policy.

In a country with around 100 million inhabitants, a 30,000 km2 coastline and almost 7,500 islands, the stakes are high. Even more apparent is the need for evidence-based scientific planning. But government administration changes every six years and no president can be re-elected. Continuity of policy agenda has always been a challenge—and has always taken a back seat in favor of political leanings and personal biases. Six years is clearly not enough for reforms to take effect.

Among the most critical and emerging issues for a nationwide science policy agenda are healthcare; agriculture, fisheries and food security; environmental integrity; marine science and oceanography; disaster science and weather forecasting; climate change; space technology development and application; and finally, information and communication technology—access to the internet for all.

A city mayor for almost two decades in the southern Philippines, the incoming president’s draft science and technology agenda dwells on broad strokes and statements in five main areas: renewable energy, industrialization, faster and cheaper internet, increased food production, and climate change adaptation.

His choice for the next science and technology chief looks promising. Currently serving as undersecretary of the Department of Science and Technology, Fortunato dela Peña is a chemical engineer but has been holding top government positions since 2001. Yet, based on his draft science and technology agenda, and his statements during the presidential debates, the incoming president seems not to have realized the importance of science and technology in nation building and economic progress. Or has he?

Science policy environment since 1986

President Corazon C. Aquino, the late mother of incumbent President Benigno S. Aquino III, highlighted the importance of science and technology in achieving economic progress. She helped establish the Department of Science and Technology and formulated the Science and Technology Master Plan 1991-2000. At that time, the Philippines aimed to be a newly industrialized country.

Succeeding presidents have had their fair share of science policies geared toward improving the sector. President Fidel V. Ramos introduced laws on inventors’ incentives and science and technology scholarships, while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo adopted policies focusing on a national innovation system and promoted technology entrepreneurship under the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan 2004-2010.

The most recent National Science and Technology Plan (NSTP) 2002-2020 is largely focused on building technological self-reliance. Meanwhile, the Harmonized Agenda for Science and Technology presented to incumbent president Aquino in 2014 highlighted two crucial issues: inclusive growth and disaster risk reduction.

Critical technologies to address these issues have recently been developed, and these include LiDAR processing, remote sensing and microsatellites (Diwata-1). NEXT PAGE —->

Shai Panela is an award-winning freelance science journalist based in the Philippines. She was part of the Asian Science Journalism fellowship program of the World Federation of Science Journalists in 2013 and covers stories in science, health, technology and the environment.

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