Why Don’t Philippine Scientists Stay?

by Lorraine Servano

Art by Bea Alexa Rondon for Hiraya.

From the ever-decreasing budget in research and technology until it had the lowest funding in the region, to the limited opportunities in higher education, it’s no surprise that these scientists decide to seek greener pastures, and in the end, never come home again.

There has always been something so endearing about the phrase “science and technology for the people”, and the idea of Filipino scientists staying so that they’d be able to serve their countrymen, or the thought of more purely Filipino inventions and discoveries being able to improve the lives of millions. These concepts seem bewildering to us because, considering the current circumstances of scientists in the country, it just doesn’t seem very likely at all.

In the past years, there has been a considerable amount of great Filipino scientists and researchers leaving the country to practice their professions. In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that there are only 189 researchers per 1 million people in the country. According to their standard, there must be at least 380 researchers per 1 million people. Just looking at the data, one can’t help but wonder how the Philippines has reached this point, wherein they lack the resources in research and technology, which are their very own countrymen.

A graph shows that the Philippines has a low number of researchers per million inhabitants as compared to other countries. Photo from UNESCO.

It’s no surprise that Filipino scientists decide to leave the country, especially with the many reasons that make them move. We are full of pride when we see them thrive in their chosen fields abroad, but considering the limited support given to them by the state, it isn’t surprising that they leave the country, never to return.

Money’s Always a Problem

According to UNESCO, in 2013, the Philippines only allotted a minuscule amount of 0.16% of its funds for research and development. Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has claimed that this amount increases every year. But the amount has not been any more than 1% of the government’s total funds, with it having an average of only 0.4% from 2016 to 2020.

How will research and development be able to thrive in this kind of situation, with this little funding? Our government gives more funding to the police and military than to the sciences, even during a pandemic. Keep in mind that we need more people working in the sciences, especially during these times, because we will not be able to battle a virus with guns and tanks.

Lack of Support From the Government

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was evident how the local government disregarded the call of the Filipinos to listen to science. When there was a COVID-19 detection kit developed by the scientists at the University of the Philippines, which was generally cheaper and more accessible than the ones bought abroad, the Philippine government seemed to choose to continue to import test kits from China and Korea. They didn’t use the kits because there was a “defect,” which only apparently centered on contaminated imported reagents and not the test kit itself. Why so?

The contents of the COVID-19 testing kit designed by 15 scientists from the University of the Philippines Manila and the Philippine Genome Center.

The lack of support from the government when it comes to research and development, and science in general, is a big blow to Filipino scientists who tirelessly work to be able to improve the country. The fact that they give more attention to other aspects that are not as useful and as important as the sciences, like national defense, show how they currently have their priorities in line.

If more attention was given to the sciences, most especially research and development, then the Philippines would become a country full of scientific achievements because we can produce so many brilliant minds. It’s just that they choose to emigrate for better education and better opportunities.

But considering their situation, nobody can blame them for leaving the land they call home. Although the government has tried to bring them back through the Balik Scientist program, we can only hope for them to be able to do more so that science and technology can finally be able to serve the people even more.

Lagi’t lagi, para sa bayan.

Medical technologists and volunteers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños using COVID-19 testing equipment. Photo by the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

#ARCHIVES: This article was previously published in Hiraya Zine Volume 1, Issue 2: Science for Society last September 2021. Download the zine for free here.



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