Written by Anne Breechie De Jesus
Illustrated by Aki Banguis
Studying in a small public institution, I never understood why a considerably large portion of my high school’s identity remained tied to the repute of having a so-called “special science section”, when there endures an evident shortage of means to establish facilities and equipment fit for fulfilling such a science-centered curriculum. Owing to this experience, my foundation in science was quite literally on the verge of collapse before entering the collegiate level of the academe: a faulty substructure that is built on memorized concepts, defective microscopes, broken beakers, and an overall lack of experience in applied science.
Stepping out of the confines of our province and staring at the world with a wider perspective, I was wrong to readily assume that this apparent inadequacy of funding for scientific pursuits would remain within the confines of our high school alone. As it turns out, the insufficiency of science education support persists to be an ingrained problem in the present society, despite it being an integral player in every country’s quest for obtaining technological developments.
The short answer stands; there prevails an interminable irony between the insistent need for scientific progress and the monetary allowance allotted for such pursuits in the Philippine setting, that despite the apparent importance and urgency of the former, very little financial allocation is administered for its rightful procurement.
Impoverished and Ignored
The limits enforced on the monetary allowance reserved for the sciences have always been included among the greatest challenges encountered by the 21st-century Philippines. In the face of the nation’s collective desire to attain financial independence, societal growth, and economic development–factors that can be easily driven to realization through the agency of scientific prospects–there lingers a scarcity in the support bestowed upon science communicators and scientists alike.
In the local context, science education is internationally perceived to be depicted by its inadequate scientific capacity and insufficient funding.1 This observation is explained by the various budget cuts imposed on the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)2, the Philippine Science High School (PSHS)3 system, and the University of the Philippines (UP)4: organizations and institutions that are considered to be among the country’s front-liners when it comes to spear-heading science-related initiatives.
For instance, according to then-DOST secretary Fortunato de la Peña, the ₱850 million budget cut from the 2022 DOST budget proposal had the potential to induce significant delays in the implementation of modernization programs and infrastructure projects, as this can impede the improvement of pre-existing facilities and the recruitment of more personnel.2 This, in turn, inhibits the discovery of inventions and innovations which would have been instrumental in mitigating problems and alleviating the quality of life enjoyed by Filipinos in the present time.
Aside from the general issue of budget slashes, there is also a conspicuous disparity in the allocation of research and development (R&D) funds, since the vast majority of the allocated reserves are specifically concentrated in the NCR and its surrounding regions alone.5 This “regionally-inclusive” method of distributing funds has since given rise to adverse implications on the nation’s social development, thus, further emphasizing the need for better financial planning and budget allotment.5
Forcing unreasonable limitations on the proposed financial estimates of these managements is particularly detrimental to the attainment of onward progression in the field of science and technology, as not only does it heavily undermine the local perspective on research initiatives, but it also prevents the supposed procurement of resources that are integral to the completion of such projects. Hence, it is increasingly important to note that incentivizing ideas through sufficient and proper budget allocation positively augments the chances of generating societal advancements, which, ultimately, allows the production of social returns.6
Through the Locals’ Lenses
Despite the prowess of science, a vast majority of the Filipino populace still undervalues its worth and merit. Local perspectives on research are usually met with pronounced dislike, starting from the everyday high school setting, where the lack of a solid foundation on the subject has perpetuated unwarranted hate for the discipline, up to the more formal milieu of the Senate, where one might recall Senator Cynthia Villar’s infamous outburst in 2019. In a hearing with the Department of Agriculture (DA), she notably berated the allocation of 150 million pesos to agricultural research, saying “Bakit parang lahat ng inyong budget puro research? Baliw na baliw kayo sa research. Aanhin ninyo ba ‘yung research? Ako, matalino akong tao, pero hindi ko maintindihan ‘yang research niyo”7.
These examples are readily indicative of the undervaluing of science: a phenomenon that is heavily rooted in the country’s substandard science communication and overall background knowledge in scientific research curriculums. Local science communicators actually recognize the inadequate science communication efforts pursued in the nation, emphasizing how there is an apparent challenge posed in imparting scientific expertise in the Philippines due to contrasting perspectives on the topic.8 This collective undermining, combined with the pessimistic prevailing outlook on the subject, explains why budget cuts in scientific pursuits persist in happening in the country.
When the field of science becomes widely underrated, so do the inventions that could have arisen from such pursuits. Note that without these novel schemes, inventive solutions to modern-day problems cannot be secured. Hence, there is an urgent need to recognize and give importance to the educational and societal value of science, as it is only through this that the growth and productivity of knowledge-based communities can be fostered and rightfully sustained.
Repercussions of the Plunge
The plummeting budget for R&D has alarming implications for society as a general whole. Primarily, it results in a lack of means to acquire material resources that are essential for the accomplishment of research and scientific endeavors. Stemming from the government-based public institutions’ lack of equipment and learning materials9, up to the budget slashes in research undertakings, the insufficiency of assets to cater to a conducive environment for the sciences has the propensity to hinder advancements because without the proper paraphernalia to conduct studies, research pursuits cannot be brought into fruition.
With very little monetary allowance allocated to scientific research and facilities, also comes a drastic decrease in the local scientific consciousness–an occurrence that eventually leads to increasingly unsatisfactory science communication channels. If left unchecked, this can further demean the current collective outlook of the Filipino populace on the field of science and research, thus, resulting in yet another instance of a brain drain.
Are our homegrown scientists and professionals deserving of this negligence and mistreatment? For their tireless diligence and hard work, all for naught when they decide to migrate to a different country upon the cognizance of a greener pasture much more suitable for their talents–a place where only are their ideas being rightfully funded, but they, themselves, are also better compensated.
Lastly, the insufficiency of funds in this topic also brings about indirect implications on the state of the Philippine economy. Without the rightful allocation for scientific research ventures, an eminent decrease in innovations can be observed. This then considerably reduces the chances of discovering inventions that would have had the potential to improve a country’s economical output.
We, The Stewards of Science
Notwithstanding the declining budget for research and scientific pursuits coupled with the insistent financial cuts, there remain semblances of efforts being made to alleviate the problem at hand.
For instance, some Senators like Robin Padilla and Francis Tolentino have publicly expressed their intent to allocate more funds for the DOST, stating how “the only missing component [at play] is the financial support from the government”, and how the aforementioned departmental agency is “abreast with the latest technological developments”.9 However, while these sentiments come from a place with good intent, mere words are not enough–urgent action must be done to actually instigate a noticeable change in the grand scheme of things.
As stewards of science, we are endowed with the responsibility of seeking accountability, empowering the pursuits of local scientists, and shifting paradigms of research. There is a pressing need to act upon the insufficient budget allocations for scientific endeavors in the Philippines. The budget slashes and lack of funding from the government in line with scientific ventures are an indictment of undervaluing the prowess of science–an event that not only impedes the creation of innovations but also the forward progression of the country as a whole.
There lies a harrowing reality behind broken beakers–sometimes, these are not just mere fragmented pieces of glassware waiting to be thrown away in some forgotten landfill. Occasionally, these represent an aspiring scientist’s dream of achieving that ever-elusive notion of ‘greatness’ amid a world that pits them against all odds. The narrative on my junior high school experience is just one account out of the many innumerable cases which explicitly depicts the lack of government support for the scientific pursuits of public institutions. Had we had access to better laboratory equipment and resources, who knows what kind of opportunities might have opened up for us?
The point remains: scientific advancements and onward progression will only be made possible if sufficient support and proper funding in the discipline of science are met.
Bonquin C. (2019). Villar questions Agriculture Department’s ‘crazy’ obsession with corn research. CNN Philippines. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/10/10/Cynthia-Villar-Department-of-Agriculture-corn-research.html
De la Peña F. (2020). Filipinnovation: financing science for the people. Department of Science and Technology. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_gii_2020-chapter10.pdf
Heyard R. Hottenrott H. (2021).The value of research funding for knowledge creation and dissemination: A study of SNSF Research Grants. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 8, 217 https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-021-00891-x
Llaneta CAC. (2022). UP faces a P22.295B budget cut for FY 2023. University of the Philippines. https://up.edu.ph/up-faces-a-p22-295b-budget-cut-for-fy-2023/
Marquez C. (2021). DOST suffers P850-million cut in 2022 proposed budget. GMA News Network. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/801739/dost-suffers-p850-million-cut-in-2022-proposed-budget/story/
Navarro K. McKinnon M. (2020). Challenges of communicating science: perspectives from the Philippines JCOM 19(01), A03. https://doi.org/10.22323/2.19010203
Senate of the Philippines. (2021). Budget cuts in nutrition research, science high school worry Marcos. Legacy.senate.gov. https://legacy.senate.gov.ph/photo_release/2021/1115_02.asp
Senate of the Philippines. (2022). Padilla wants additional funding for DOST. Legacy.senate.gov. https://legacy.senate.gov.ph/photo_release/2022/1117_12.asp
UNESCO Institute of Statistics. (n.d.). Researchers by sex, per million inhabitants, per thousand labor force, per thousand total employment (FTE and HC). UNESCO. http://data.uis.unesco.org/index.aspx?queryid=64