The House Committee on Appropriations approved the substitute bill of the Science for Change Program (S4CP) from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Albay Representative Joey Salceda, Pangasinan 4th District Representative Christopher De Venecia, and DOST Secretary Fortunato De La Pena all spoke on behalf of the bill, citing the important role of science and technology in helping the Philippines overcome the COVID-19 Pandemic and strengthen its resiliency.
“When I returned to Congress in 2016, I convened National Scientists, members of the academe, and leading officials of the DOST to craft a national framework for scientific development,” related Congressman Joey Salceda. “We were alarmed by the data from the World Bank, which showed that out of 90 countries that the Philippines only beats Algeria and Sudan for R&D spending per capita. And in terms of share of GDP, we beat only Algeria, Iran and Indonesia.”
Given the rapid demand for innovation during the pandemic, the bill is aims to addresses disparity in research and development (R&D) funding in the Regions and lack of R&D in the private sector. Health concerns presented by COVID-19 tested the country’s ability to respond to public emergencies. S4CP will also provide scientific solutions to national problems such as health innovations, transportation, nutrition, food security, food safety and disaster response and risk management
“With approved and implemented S4CP Bill, there will be continuing support from government, industry and academe to STI for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña. “There will be continuing increase in technology-based & value-adding business investments both foreign and domestic due to a conducive STI supported economic environment, and more self-reliance because of more capable and more confident technology stakeholders.”
While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) benchmark for a developing country is a budget of 1% of the GDP Expenditure on R&D (GERD), the S4CP bill is pushing for the allocation of 2% in the General Appropriations Act for R&D within the next five years. The R&D budget is currently at 0.47% in the 2021 General Appropriations Act.
Even with a limited budget, the S4CP has achieved milestones in scientific output since 2016. DOST has funded 38 Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D (NICER) in 17 Regions with allotted funding of P1.89 Billion for universities and R&D Institutes (RDI) in the region. Another S4CP sub-program is the RDLead which deployed 42 R&D Leaders in 16 Regions tasked to share their expertise and promote regional development. Despite the relatively low inputs given to the science, technology and innovation initiatives in the country. The DOST has achieved significant milestones in scientific output as it implemented the 4 sub-programs of the S4CP since 2016.
The Collaborative Research and Development to Leverage Philippine Economy (CRADLE) Program created partnerships between private companies and the academe/ RDIs to solve their problems using R&D. The CRADLE Program funded 71 partnerships in 10 regions with total funding of P324.5 million. The Business Innovation through S&T for Industry (BIST) Program encourages private companies to invest in R&D. It was designed for government to share the risk, by shouldering 70% of the cost of the R&D equipment. The Program has provided financial assistance to three companies in their R&D efforts with total allotted funding of P32.6 million.
“The Economic Development Cluster supports the Science for Change bill and we will abide by DOF and DBM suggestion not to create a Special Fund but instead propose to allocate a larger budget to DOST for its priority programs and projects,” said DOST Secretary dela Peña. “Starting at P10 billion for 2022 and increasing each year in the next five years until it reaches 2% of the GAA.”
Once approved, the S4CP Bill will promote inclusive, equitable and sustainable development through the optimal use of the R&D budget allocated to different government departments and agencies. It will give rise to more national centers of excellence in R&D which are a par with international counterparts and impact social and economic development of the country.