ERNESTO M. PERNIA
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary
2018 PAASE Meeting
National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City
24 October 2018, 9:40 a.m.
Distinguished officials and members of the Philippine-American Academy of Science & Engineering (PAASE), co-workers in the government, delegates, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Special salutations to our PAASE compatriots who’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean to join in this important undertaking.
I am pleased and fortunate to be given this privilege to deliver this keynote message before you today. I, myself, am proud to be a part of PAASE, having been elected as a member in 2005 and served on its board from 2008 to 2013.
During the Annual PAASE Meetings and Symposium last April at the University of Arizona, one of the key questions that came up was: “How do we use science and technology and innovation (STI) in order to accelerate the country’s socioeconomic development and, more importantly, raise the quality of life of Filipinos?” This is also the question we would like to impress on us all today. Let’s consider it a challenge that we will be taking home with us after this meeting. As Dr. Joel Cuello said, now is the time to begin. We hope that, after this event, game-changing ideas and action plans will be laid out – and made doable.
The theme of this two-day gathering, “Volunteerism (and deep cooperation) to promote Philippine Science, Engineering and Innovation,” echoes the strategies laid out in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, the country’s blueprint for socioeconomic development. We invite you to read (if you haven’t done so yet) this comprehensive document that charts our development agenda for the country over the medium-term. The PDP is geared towards our collective long-term aspirations as a nation, which is called AmBisyon Natin 2040. We envision the Philippines in 2040 to be a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society where no one is poor. Filipinos enjoy long and healthy lives, are smart and innovative, and live in a high-trust society in the midst of a global knowledge economy. No one would dispute that science, technology and innovation, or STI, will greatly help us to get there.
Chapter 14 of the PDP tackles at length the key strategies we need to do, and the outcomes we aim for, to increase the country’s growth potential through STI.
One of the strategies I would like to cite is the increase in the use of advanced technology in the agriculture, industry, and services sectors. Priority assistance will be given by the government to encourage the use of technologies with high commercial potential. This will improve productivity and efficiency in the said sectors, translating to an increase in incomes and more gainful jobs, especially in the countryside, especially in our lagging regions.
The history of the light bulb has always been used an example to describe the relationship between innovation and efficiency. Indeed, you may call it the first “light bulb moment” 150 years ago. Imagine the relief people felt at that time when they no longer had to light gas lamps or candles for illumination at night. And today, this invention has changed how we use energy in our everyday lives.
I want to stress, however, that while the world has seen many unprecedented technological breakthroughs, and is now in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Industry 4.0 – which we also refer to as FIRe – the Philippines, in terms of science and technology, is sadly lagging behind.
Speaking of light bulbs, a 2013 study conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, an attached agency of NEDA, says that 16 million Filipinos do not have access to electricity.[i] Or, based on World Bank data, 9 percent of Filipinos still have no access to electricity in 2016.[ii]
In the agriculture sector, on the other hand, the Philippines is still in the mechanization phase when, in many advanced economies, we already see drones, driver-less tractors, and internet-based technologies transforming production.
Another notable challenge in the current STI ecosystem in the Philippines is the weakness and inadequacy of the S&T human capital in our country. Data show that the Philippines has only 270 researchers to every one million people in 2013. This is well below the UNESCO norm of 380 per million population. This is also way lower than the 1,020 researchers per million population average in the East Asia and the Pacific countries.[iii] The 2018 Global Innovation Index report, in which we ranked 73rd out of 126 economies, pointed as well to our weaknesses in human capital and research and development.
These are just a few examples showing us the critical roles that STI play in the country’s growth path, and how building faster our STI ecosystem can make a tremendous impact.
That is why we are deeply thankful to our partners, such as the PAASE, for helping us implement the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, especially in vigorously advancing STI. Cooperative strategies between the government and PAASE include promoting the advancement of research and development, and supporting efforts of Filipino scientists and engineers. On the part of the government, we intend to increase the share of gross domestic expenditure on research and development to 0.5 percent of GDP by 2022 from the measly 0.08 percent in 2017, besides providing scholarships for PhD and Master’s degrees.
Improving the STI ecosystem in the Philippines requires concerted effort. We need more programs that can ignite volunteerism and collaboration.
To name one, the Department of Science and Technology is leading the brain-gain initiative, called Strengthened Balik Scientist Program. This seeks to encourage overseas Filipino scientists and technologists, experts, and professionals to return to the Philippines and contribute to the acceleration of the scientific, agro-industrial and economic development of the country. There has been a total of 265 short-term engagements and 26 long-term engagements from 2007 to 2017, and rising further.
The good news is that Republic Act 11035, or the Balik Scientist Act, has institutionalized this program. This law provides incentives to returning scientists. The Balik Scientist Act also intends to promote knowledge sharing and accelerate the flow of new technologies into the Philippines.
The law coming into force has been particularly timely given the need to fire up the STI ecosystem in the Philippines in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or FIRe.
Apart from volunteerism, another core value that harnesses our potentials to innovate is collaboration. The Philippine Development Plan recognizes that open collaboration among the various actors in the STI ecosystem should be strengthened in order to strongly stimulate innovation. However, we must first eliminate the institutional bottlenecks for joint research activities, such as burdensome processes and administrative procedures, particularly in public higher education and research institutions. The new law on Ease of Doing Business or Anti-Red Tape Act should be of material help, not to mention the Philsys ID currently under implementation.
Meanwhile, international cooperation should be aggressively pursued. We should tap international platforms through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
In closing, let me reiterate that setting an advanced STI ecosystem in the Philippines is vital, given our rapidly changing environment, most especially in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will open new possibilities for the country, from creating new firms or even entirely new industries, to providing high-quality jobs. It can also bring new opportunities to create new and far-reaching methods of delivering public goods and services that will uplift the lives of all.
Your active leadership in your respective fields, and your active participation, will contribute to our journey towards an inclusive and broad-based economic prosperity.
Thank you and have a great day ahead.
[i] Navarro, A.M., et.al. October 2013. Energy Market Integration and Energy Poverty in ASEAN. Retrieved from https://dirp4.pids.gov.ph/webportal/CDN/PUBLICATIONS/pidsdps1350.pdf
[ii]World Bank, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL ) database from the SE4ALL Global Tracking Framework led jointly by the World Bank, International Energy Agency, and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program. 2016. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.RU.ZS?locations=PH
[iii] Data noted in Philippine Socioeconomic Report 2017 Chapter 14