Back track: Science and Technology Under the Tuwid na Daan (Part I)

“Kung walang korap, walang mahirap. Ito ang tuwid na daan.” We first heard this phrase six years ago, in TV ads, campaign jingles and yellow posters that filled the streets. And now, another candidate is using the magic phrase again. But what exactly is this tuwid na daan legacy?

This two-part article tackles the state of science and technology under the tuwid na daan and the policies that lead to this state; a starting point or a diagnostic report for the aspiring leaders of the country.

Science (mis)education 

To be able to understand the dreadful situation of the science and technology (S&T) sector, we must first look at the country’s state of S&T education.

If someone’s from a public school especially those with dense school population, maybe he/she can relate to one of these scenes: students compelled to conduct experiments in the hallways in the absence of laboratories; a teacher “virtually” instructing how to use the school’s one and only microscope intact in a no-touch glass cabinet; or a class of sixty or seventy students bathing in their own sweats, crammed in a poorly-ventilated classroom designed for thirty students.

In public elementary schools, only 4.8% have science laboratories while 50% of high schools have at least one. But a student-laboratory ratio of 1:1325 would tell a different story. Concentrating and learning the lessons well is a challenge in this horrible environment.

The National Achievement Test (NAT) results is an evidence of how poor our S&T education is. In school year 2011-2012, the mean percentage score of grade three pupils in math is 59.87% and 55.15% in science. Fourth year students scored even lower with only 46.37% in math and 40.53% in science, way far from the passing rate of 75%. In addition, in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, the so-called quality of our science and math education as perceived by corporate interests ranked only 96th out of 144 countries in 2013.

The yellow administration’s harebrained answer to these bad education statistics is to shift the curriculum to K-12 in 2013 despite the obvious lack in preparedness in terms of infrastructure (classrooms and laboratories) and teacher’s training.

Draining the lifeblood of research and development

Despite the invaluable role that science and technology workers play in the development of Philippine society, the government spends very little support to the science and technology sector. In 2015, only PhP 11 billion pesos only has been allotted for Research and Development (R&D) or 0.45% of the national budget.

According to USAID, Philippines is not producing enough scientists, which is at just about 80 or 90 per million population compared to 4,000 in innovation-leading countries. We are also way behind the UNESCO requirement of 380 per million population of Research and Development (R&D) personnel, with just 201 per million population in 2011.

It is with no doubt that Filipino scientists’ brilliance and creativity can go far. We have names that gave the world an awe such as Agapito Flores, Fe del Mundo and the likes. But how can the Philippines produce the next del Mundo, Flores and have its own Einsteins if Filipino science and technology professionals are neglected, vilified and killed?

State neglect for S&T workers comes in the form of job insecurity brought by contractualization and unjust compensation for risky and hazardous jobs, sweeping away scientists in search for greener pastures overseas. Based on Department of Science and Technology (DOST) there has been 148% rise in S&T personnel working abroad from 1998 to 2009 and further increased into 182.5% from 1990 to 2010. This alarming statistics is progressing, which include PAGASA administrator Nataniel Servando who left his post in 2013 in exchange of better opportunities in Qatar.

For the past five years, the Aquino administration’s programs and proposed policies such as the Salary Standardization Law 4 (SSL4) which provides distorted salary increase in favor of high-ranking personnel, aggravates the mass exodus of our brilliant S&T professionals. Recently, the Magna Carta of Science and Technology Workers, whom for which advocates have struggled to pass into law, has been at stake due to some provisions in the SSL4. Also, the ASEAN Integration which promotes the free flow of skilled labor among the ASEAN nations would bring an increase in competition for local and foreign professionals.

Clearly, the administration failed in promoting the welfare of our scientists, engineers and S&T workers and also failed in pushing for a science and technology that serves the interests of the broad masses.

Remember Leilani Naga, Christopher Evan Borja and Melvin Simangan, the employees of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management of the Department of Agriculture who were killed in a plane crash while conducting a cloud seeding operation in an attempt to alleviate the worsening droughts in Isabela in 2014?

Remember Salvacion Avestruz, the PAGASA weather forecaster who despite the great risks did not abandon her duty but unfortunately perished in the midst of Yolanda storm surge in Tacloban City?

These incidents highlight the plight of field scientists who are in constant risks while performing their jobs, yet occupational safety are taken for granted.

Scientists under fire

Scientists are not bullet-proof and are also targets of state fascism and persecution.

Remember Leonard Co, the world-renowned ethnobotanist whose contributions to the field of botany resounded from universities to poor rural communities, who was mistaken for a communist rebel and was slain by elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines while conducting a research work in Kananga, Leyte in 2010?

Remember Dr. Gerry Ortega, the veterinarian, environmentalist and radio broadcaster who blatantly opposed the mining concessions in Palawan who was silenced by bullets by unknown gunmen in 2011?

Remember Prof. Kim Gargar, a physicist-environmentalist who was arrested while doing a research and rehabilitation work in the Typhoon Pablo-devastated areas in Davao Oriental, and was charged with multiple trumped-up charges such as murder, attempted murder and possession of explosive devices in 2013?

Remember Engr. Fidela “Delle” Salvador, a development worker gunned down by elements of the 41st Infantry Batallion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines while conducting a monitoring and evaluation of her organization’s project for the marginalized communities in Lacub, Abra in 2014?

The Aquino administration was deaf and numb amidst the people’s cry for justice. For over half a decade, justice is still elusive for these victims of state fascism who devoted their lives in service to the people.

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