I can’t help but feel low after reading a recent comment of a senator who looked down at research as not worth the budget being allocated for it by the Department of Agriculture.
She was quoted as saying: “Why does it seem like all your budget goes into research? You’re crazy over research. What will you do with this research?”
This mindset pretty much sums up the sad state of science and technology in the country, why we’re slowly slipping down in our global competitiveness, why our gifted scientists are shifting to more pragmatic means to put food on their table, rather than engage in potentially breakthrough researches that can fulfill a serious need in the country as well as the world.
If a nation’s progress were an engine, research is the spark plug which starts it and revs it up. It can give back more than a dozen-fold of the investment, in terms of enhanced productivity, better outcomes and more cost-effective interventions.
Even in business, which the good senator must be well-versed on, market research is crucial in arriving at certain decisions.
Research in various aspects is part of due diligence. So, if one does not believe in research, one stands the risk of being negligent.
Time and again, I’ve lamented in this column the lukewarm attitude our government is showing toward research. Though I’m privileged to be occasionally invited to speak in international congresses, I confess to feeling somewhat a second-rate expert—compared to foreign colleagues whose sophisticated research works are funded by their government and other agencies.
I remember in the 1960s to the ’80s, the Philippine-based International Rice and Research Institute (Irri) was the epicenter of agricultural research in Asia, and one of the best sources of innovative rice-growing technologies in the world. The key to its success is its generous funding, no thanks to the Philippine government, but to international nongovernment organizations like the Rockefeller and Ford foundations.
The University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA), in Los Baños, Laguna
—where Irri is based—was known worldwide as the strongest academic institution on agriculture in Asia. Scientists from all over Asia were sent to the UPCA and Irri to study and train.
We exported rice to neighboring countries and the rest of the world. Now, we’re the ones importing rice from Thailand and other countries. The former mentor is now the beneficiary of the science gained by the student.
Irri granted numerous research scholarships to Filipino and Asian researchers and scientists for their MS and PhD degrees, and their research works were published in high-impact international publications.
There was also a generous budget for postmasteral and postdoctoral fellows, who were offered training courses in research.
Because these scientists could focus on their researches full-time, they also finished their works promptly and translated it to actual benefits in the agricultural fields.
Those were the heyday of agricultural research in the country. When the funding from the international foundations started to dry up, the national government failed to sustain it with an equal budgetary leverage it used to get.
I remember, too, in the ’70s and early ’80s, the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) was known as the PHC for Asia, the premier cardiovascular center in Asia.
Royalties and dignitaries were brought there for treatment of their complicated heart ailments. Young doctors from other Asian countries were also sent to PHC to be trained as heart experts and cardiovascular surgeons.
In the mid-’80s, when Dr. Espie Cabral took over, it was deemed fit to remove the tag “… for Asia” in its name. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have progressed by leaps and bounds through their modernization programs and productive researches.
The PHC remains a good training ground for future cardiovascular experts, but we failed to match the momentum of development—with research as one of the main pillars—which other countries had adopted.
With meager or no funds at all, Filipino researchers have been trying to do meaningful work—simply for the love of science. But they have to be practical, too, with bills to pay. So, the motivation of our promising local scientists eventually dissipates, and they shift to more productive ways to earn a decent living.
Recently, we’ve been trying to help young doctors get their papers published in reputable international journals. But most journals now require article publishing charges (APCs) to cover for the indexing of papers in various international databases, so that the international scientific community could read about it and learn from it, too.
Sadly, in the various fields of medicine, our citation index is among the lowest in the world. It’s simply because we’re not able to publish our research works in internationally indexed scientific journals. Young researchers will have to dig deep into their pockets to fork out the $1,500-5,000 APCs which top-tier medical journals are asking.
We’ve written to government research agencies for assistance to help defray the costs of APCs, but we have not heard from them. We take it as—“We don’t have any budget to assist you.”
I believe it’s a mindset issue, as exemplified by the senator’s hurtful remarks. I don’t believe we don’t have funds. It’s just that we allocate money only when we truly believe it’s worth every peso spent for that project or program.
If we can allocate P2 billion for a small modern jet for top officials in the rare event of a crisis, it’s because the government believes it’s a necessity. If we can’t even allocate P50,000 to get one of our world-class researches published, it means we don’t believe it’s worth that amount.
It’s about time we reprogram a faulty mindset on research, and start to actively contribute to global innovation. I hope the government shows its concern by giving research the shot in the arm it badly needs.