Written by: Bienne Montaller
Illustration by: Aki Banguis
Robots are taking the world. Yes. Yes, they are.
If there is anything the Philippines must invest in, it should be science and technology. It solves nearly every problem our country is facing; from education to poverty, even the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Other progressive countries are developed because they have made science, technology, and innovation (STI) their priority. As a global community living in the modern technological age, science is the key to a country’s progression and the Philippines falls behind in this aspect.
The 2018 Integration Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) forum hosted by the United Nations (UN) was opened to discuss whether science and technology really do help solve global problems. According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin, science, and technology solve part of the problems in terms of climate change, poverty, and other global issues. Science and technological advancement are integral factors in achieving the 2030 Agenda for the sustainable development of resilient societies. It is important that we adapt to this line of thinking.
The Philippines has a lot of potential to be one of the most developed countries in the world, possessing an abundance of natural resources, flourishing tourism, and rich agriculture. With all these in mind, the Philippines can achieve so much more through invested support in science-driven and practical research. This is why it is crucial to invest in the science and technology sector; it advocates for resilience, improvement, and enlightenment—securing a brighter future for all Filipinos.
Analyzing the global stage, most advanced countries place projects regarding STI at the forefront of their developmental priorities. These forces control modern society and influence the growth of the global economy. By constructing greener, more inclusive societies, STI can promote sustainable development. STI is a crucial gear in the machine we call the Philippine economy. However, compared to other countries, the Philippines is falling behind on this matter. It is the hope of the youth of this country that the new administration fulfills their promises of bringing forth “a new Philippines” by “transforming human life and experience” through the development of advanced biotechnologies that will further improve the agriculture sector.
Science and technology have and will improve the standard of living and promise the advancement of this country; in regard to agriculture and economy. STI addresses local and global challenges such as environmental issues, poverty, as well as global competition. As the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) stated, “Without STI: we will not be competitive”.
Our country suffers from a lack of scientists and technologists. The Philippines is home to some of the brightest minds in the world but the country lacks the resources– rather effort to support working conditions, material rewards, and research funds, inclining them to turn towards better opportunities abroad instead. This is known as ‘brain drain’, a recurring phenomenon since the 1970s where highly skilled professionals migrate from the country—and it is a bigger issue than one would think. Filipinos would always joke that our nurses go abroad the moment they graduate but it presents a sad reality for our country.
Fig. 1 Philippine Human Flight and Brain Drain Data From 2015-2022.
Given the data above, it is notable to see the declining rate of the human flight and brain drain index in global rankings (the higher the index, the greater the human displacement. The current Philippines index value is both good and bad; good because we have reached an all-time low of 5.1 in 2022 but bad because those scores do not make up for the fact that the country still loses thousands of professionals yearly. The lesson we learn here is to better nurture our own countrymen. Aside from supporting the science and technology sector through funding and government-sanctioned policies, we should also start from the source by encouraging the youth to pursue the sciences.
It is lucrative to increase investment in science and technology, research and development, and human resource development, among others. Agriculture solves national problems in mass: overpopulation, unemployment, food security, health and nutrition, and ecosystem preservation. By prioritizing biotechnology and education, we utilize the potential of information technology research to improve agricultural production and promote better nutrition.
Climate change and environmental degradation, a problem of many decades, can be addressed through health research, biofuels, and proper management of land and water resources. Of course, no program will ever be successful without bona fide governance. It would be their responsibility to enforce restrictive regulations concerning bioprospecting, biodiversity, information technology, and other branches of biology and technology that ca n be applied to society.
The Philippines has been making significant contributions to the development of science and technology—especially in the field of biotechnology in the utilization of biological systems for industry. Today, there are numerous biotechnology-related research institutions in the Philippines that are actively engaged in various fields including infectious disease control, food safety and quality assurance, plant genetic engineering, animal health, and human health care
Pioneering in biotechnology research since the early 2000s, the Philippines was the first Asian country to permit the commercial plantation of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Bt-corn is a genetically modified organism (GMO) that carries a transplanted gene that produces a delta-endotoxin protein capable of paralyzing destructive corn pests like the Asian corn borers. They are also capable of growing under unfavorable conditions and are not harmful to the ecosystem or consumers. This is an extremely important advancement in both the biotechnology and agriculture departments of the Philippines as Bt corn ensures food security and global food commerce by reducing farming costs while increasing crop yields.
Another technological advancement in the field of agriculture is the plant-disease-detecting robot powered by AI, known as ROAMER (Robot for Optimized and Autonomous Mission-Enhanced Responses). Implemented in June 2021 and expected to finish by June 2024, ROAMER is being handled by the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) with the purpose of optimizing day-to-day agricultural firm operations by detecting diseases early on in the plantation before it causes crippling effects on crop yield. This becomes a promising venture as there are many improvements that can be made with this AI technology such as autonomous navigation, environment simulations, mapping algorithms, phenotyping, and weather monitoring.
In line with this, the Philippines has also developed a number of technologies to help farmers grow crops more efficiently—including drones, precision farming equipment, and other innovations. Last year, an AI-driven drone seeding for rice was demonstrated in Tarlac by Bayer Crop Science (BCS). These drones can be utilized for seed distribution and spray application. It revolutionizes farming as an area that would usually take a whole day to work on, and can now be done in only 30 minutes.
According to the latest World Bank statistics report of 2020, 42.5% of the Philippine land area is dedicated to agricultural work. That amounts to almost half of the land mass dedicated to agriculture. With this, it is crucial to support the development of the agricultural sector and biotechnology. The aforementioned rising technologies further prove just how far the STI sector can take us—how significant of a difference it makes to everyday Filipino lives.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the Philippines was ahead of the biotechnology game but now, more than ever is it important to keep up with the rest of the players. The stakes are higher, the competition harder, and the downfall steeper. We have made the first steps and shown the world the potential of Filipino scientific talent, we must continue on this journey and invest additional resources in the STI sector of the Philippines. Moving forward, there will only be room for growth.
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