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Scientists in Philippines Predict Gains

MANILA—A new national Constitution does more for the Philippines than endorse the political reforms of President Corazon Aquino. Scientists hope it will also stem the emigration of doctors and researchers, encourage research to improve the country's economy, and promote involvement in R&D by the private sector. More than 12,000 Filipino scientists and engineers emigrated between 1966 and 1978, according to Fernando Sanchez, past president of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges.

By | April 6, 1987

MANILA—A new national Constitution does more for the Philippines than endorse the political reforms of President Corazon Aquino. Scientists hope it will also stem the emigration of doctors and researchers, encourage research to improve the country's economy, and promote involvement in R&D by the private sector.

More than 12,000 Filipino scientists and engineers emigrated between 1966 and 1978, according to Fernando Sanchez, past president of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges. About 120,000 Filipino doctors and nurses are now working abroad, primarily in the United States.

Sanchez said that although the level of science graduates has not dropped, "more of these are not practicing their professions or have joined the mass exodus of professionals for overseas jobs."

Money is the primary reason scientists work abroad. The top salary for faculty members is 6,000 pesos ($300) a month at the University of the Philippines, and less at private universities. Most of them therefore try to supplement their incomes through research grants and consultancies for industry and government projects.

A government agency has estimated that between 800 and 900 scientists with doctorates were living in the Philippines in 1982. Less than a third of them were doing research, however. The rest were reported to be teaching or working in government or as consultants.

A Mandate for R&D

The new Philippine Constitution was ratified in a nationwide plebiscite February 2. Among other things, it mandates that the state give priority to R&D, innovation and scientific and technical education and training.

"The new science and technology provisions are a considerable improvement compared to the 1973 Constitution," said Quintin Kintanar, deputy director-general of the National Science and Technology Authority (NSTA), the country's top scientific body.

Under the regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos, scientific research was concentrated in the areas of agriculture, energy, industry, health and nutrition. Since Aquino took office, Kintanar said, the NSTA has supported efforts that help boost productivity and promote the country's economic recovery. "The change is in the emphasis of science and technology as an engine of progress," he said.

The new Constitution mandates, for example, that the nation support farmers, fishermen, farm workers and landowners "through appropriate technology and research." The state is called upon to encourage indigenous, appropriate and self-reliant technologies.

This provision should help popularize the use of appropriate technology, especially in Philippine agriculture, said Mario P. Chanco, chairman of the Earthman Society, an environmental group that has lobbied on the issue.

It will take time for the constitutional provisions to be translated into dollars and enabling legislation. This year's budget has been set, and specific laws and new appropriations must await the election next month of a new Congress.

But Chanco is hopeful that the new Constitution will foster a broader base for scientific and cultural research. "I hope this will prevent what UNESCO calls the 'bureaucratization of science'— the predominance of government in scientific research—as is the case in most Third World countries," he said.

Perla Santos Ocampo, a pediatrician who heads the International Congress of Pediatrics, said the new constitutional provisions "will mean the enhancement of the delivery of patient care and the promotion of health in the Philippines." She also is hoping that a more supportive atmosphere for research will encourage Filipino scientists to remain in the country.

Already some scientists have begun to return, if only temporarily. Marjorie Medina left in 1968 to study in America. She received a doctorate in food science and technology from Rutgers University, and now works in Philadelphia for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In January she returned for a short-term consultancy at the Institute of Food Science and Technology at Los Banos.

"After the 1986 revolution, I wanted badly to come back and help rebuild the Philippines," she said. Food science and technology has made much progress in the Philippines since she was a student here, she noted. "It is now being done in a scientific process which the villagers can use," she said.

Amor is with the Press Foundation of Asia, based in Manila.

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