Scientists, science advocates pose challenge to national candidates: Develop science and technology for the benefit of the people

February 25, 2016

By AGHAM

Scientist group AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People together with science experts, science and technology workers, researchers, students, and science advocates challenged national candidates to include a science and technology agenda in their electoral platform. The program, entitled ‘Science and Technology Agenda 2016: Developing a Genuine S&T for the People’, is an initiative of AGHAM to gather the sentiments of people in the science and technology sector and consolidate their calls and aspirations into a unified platform. “With the national elections, it is crucial to convey to candidates the crucial role of science and technology for national development and progress,” said Feny Cosico, Secretary General of AGHAM.

“In order to advance a science and technology that serves the interests of the people, we should start with the proper education and training of our future scientists. How can we achieve this with only one laboratory per 1,325 students in our public elementary and high schools?,” asked JM Ayuste, spokesperson of Agham Youth-PUP. “College students in state universities like the PUP are forced to conduct their science experiments in hallways in the absence of working laboratories. How can we encourage students to study science if the government does not support science education?”

Science and technology workers also expressed their demands for the next leaders in government. “The government should look after its S&T workers. Right now whatever benefits we get through the Magna Carta for scientists is in danger of being taken away from us,” said Engr. Joey Matias, President of the Employees’ Association of the Information and Communications Technology Office of the DOST.

Contractualization is also very prevalent in the private and public sector. “A lot of our young scientists and researchers are employed by the government on a contractual basis, with no benefits or job security. Some of our researchers even do their mapping on airplanes without any hazard pay,” explained Mr. Narod Eco, a researcher from UP National Institute of Geological Sciences.

“We should not ask our scientists to take a vow of poverty. How can we develop science and technology in the Philippines if most of our scientists and engineers have left to seek greener pastures abroad?,” added Mr. Eco.

The modernization of local agriculture was another call issued for national candidates. “These are dark and depressing times for our local rice industry,” enthused Mr. Joji Co, President of the Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations. “We can reduce our dependence on rice imports if we were to modernize our mechanical dryers and improve our rice mills. Most rice mills in the Philippines can only recover 60 kilos of milled rice out of 100 kilos of palay. Our total rice imports, on the other hand, is only 5% of what is wasted during the rice milling process.”

“Government currently pays little attention to the local rice milling industry in favor of rice cartels who make a killing out of the importation of rice. Apparently some public officials are making money too out of the rice importation racket,” added Mr. Co.

Technologists from the information and communications technology (ICT) sector also issued their concerns. “ICT is composed of infrastructure and services. In the Philippines, however, ICT professionals only provide the services. Whatever infrastructure we have is imported from abroad and is under the control of a few telecommunications companies, who are given free rein to milk these vital services for profit,” said Mac Yanto, coordinator for the Computer Professionals Union. “The United Nations recognizes access to internet as a right, yet many Filipinos are deprived access to it since it’s too expensive,” he added.

Mr. Yanto also expounded on the crucial role of ICT professionals in the automated election system. “We should take a close look at the vote counting machines and transmission and canvassing servers and see if they correctly read, transmit, and count our votes.”

Public access to government and publicly funded data was another issue of concern for local scientists and science advocates. “Then as now, there is no transparency in our government,” said Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo from the Manila Observatory. “The government, for instance, paid a lot for LiDAR technology to produce detailed maps. Since it’s the people’s money, the information should be free. When you request for a copy of a map, however, you are asked a fee. In other words, whoever holds the data sells and makes a profit out of it,” he explained.

The various stakeholders gathered recognized that the development of basic national industries is the cornerstone of any genuine development in science and technology. Mr. Lito Abelarde, Chairman Emeritus of the Chamber of Herbal Industries of the Philippines, lamented that there is currently a disconnect between science research outputs and the needs of local industries.

“In lieu of developing the most basic of industries in mining and metals, energy, and chemicals manufacturing that would enable us to stand on our own two feet and employ our science graduates, workers and experts, governments past and present have allowed the unhampered entry of imported products and technologies and the export of our own raw materials and resources for processing abroad,” explained Cosico. “Current TNC control and ownership over technology dictates that it is used for the benefit of a few TNCs and their cohorts and not the people,” said Feny Cosico, Secretary General of AGHAM.

“These problems on science and technology must be addressed by the government. In the coming elections, scientists, researchers, engineers, science workers, students, technologists and advocates will be keeping a watchful eye on candidates’ platforms and programs. Do they include policies for the development of science and technology for genuine national development and progress?” ended Cosico.#

Reference: Ms. Finesa Cosico, 998-4226