Thursday, August 14, 2014

Positioning the Philippines as 'Science Nation'

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 08-14 August 2014 issue of FilAm Star, a weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent of the paper in Manila.

It was purely coincidental that on the day President Benigno Aquino III addressed his bosses about the state of the nation, the National Science & Technology Week was on its closing day at the Mall of Asia.  The theme of the week-long event was “Philippines: A Science Nation Meeting Global Challenges.”  

We checked if some inputs from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) went into the making of the Aquino SONA.  Well, he mentioned ‘strengthening the capabilities of [local government units], who are frontliners in times of disasters, through a modern and comprehensive forecasting system’, citing the DREAM-LiDAR project for hazard mapping, a significant element of DOST’s Outcome [or target] 8: disaster preparedness.

We’re wondering what impact the SONA could have created had the president delved a little on the integrated Government Philippines or iGovPhil project, the flagship e-governance project of DOST, which will be fully operational later this year or early next year. It is touted to “make ICT-based governance possible and broaden access to government-services particularly healthcare and education, for those in the countryside.” 

The e-governance is DOST’s Outcome 5 for the Philippines as a Science Nation. Will iGovPhil provide the access point to government databases should the Freedom of Information (FOI) become a law? Will iGovPhil and the FOI operate in tandem?

We were at the National S&T Week venue for four days helping the young alumni of the International Science & Engineering Fair manage their exhibits at the Intel Philippines area. We spent some time to learn about DOST’s eight outcomes or targets from the diverse exhibits, demonstrations, forums and publications of S&T stakeholders.

The outcomes are set to achieve economic development and global competitiveness especially with reference to the ASEAN integration in 2015.

Agriculture is the focal point of Outcome 1. We were drawn to the Crop Genome Projects of the Philippine Council for Agrciulture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) on the abaca, coconut varieties, carabao mango, sugarcane and tomato. Expected results include improvement of crop characteristics and their resistance to pests. In the case of the carabao mango, PCAARRD is looking at eventually having seedlings authenticated as a true-to-type variety before they are dispersed from nurseries.

At this time, PCAARRD is on the fast track with Philippine Coconut Authority, Dept. of Agriculture and UPLB to save the coconut industry from the coconut scale insect, popularly known as 'cocolisap'. This was first detected in 2010, but massive treatments of infested plantations in Quezon, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite started only this year. The integrated pest management approach involves pruning of infected leaves; treatment with systemic insecticide through trunk injection; spraying of organic pesticide following prescribed protocols; releasing biological control agents; and fertilization.

Outcome 2 is largely defined by the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) to assist micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in acquiring “technology interventions in order to increase the volume of their production, improve product and service quality, expand their market, and allow their business to attain world-class standards.”

DOST's strategies also include technical assistance and consultancy services in the areas of food safety, energy audit, and cleaner production, and innovative packaging services for effective marketability of products, among others.

In particular, SETUP focuses on food processing, furniture, metals and engineering, horticulture and agriculture, health products and services, electronics, ICT, gifts, housewares, and décor.   About 60-70 percent of SETUP adopters are from the food industry.  

DOST's thrust for Outcome 3 is to “push local industries to move up the value chain and offer services previously not available in the country and thus make a dent in the global market.”

The showpiece was the RP-S-512, "a locally assembled two-seater light sport airplane that is easily transported and stored in much smaller hangar spaces because of its detachable wings, powered by a 100-HP engine and runs on basic unleaded gasoline." This showcases the cooperative venture of DOST and the AIAP (Aerospace Industries Association of the Philippines) to explore aviation and aerospace manufacturing.

The focus of Outcome 4 is Information Technology - Business Process Management (IT-BMP). The vision is to generate direct employment in the countryside through two programs: e-Commerce and Rural Impact Sourcing,

By 2016, DOST hopes to generate 1.3-Million employment and USD 25-Billion revenues in the IT-BPM industry. Today, the country is tops in voice services (call centers) and is the second choice for non-voice services (healthcare information management, software, game development, animation and engineering services).

We mentioned Outcome 5 (e-governance) earlier. Its backbone is fiber optic technology. This will interconnect 160 government offices in Metro Manila once the cables are fully installed, providing high speed communication among them. A similar network for 12 agencies is scheduled to come online in Cebu later this year.

iGovPhil is a component of the e-Government Master Plan (EGMP). The Medium-Term ICT Harmonization Initiative (MITHI), another component, will "standardize processes, make applications interoperable, facilitate collaboration [on projects] and allow sharing of resources" of all government offices.

Centralized databases like land, vehicles,businesses and citizens’ registries are mentioned in the iGovPhil literature.  We wonder if the coverage will eventually include budgets and procurements of goods and services, which are hot items in today’s debates on the controversial PDAF and DAP.  It would also be good to know if access will be open to the public or not.

Health is everybody's business in Outcome 6: "improvement of healthcare and quality of life for Filipinos via science, technology and innovation.”

FNRI  (Food and Nutrition Research Institute) commitment is through a a teaching tool called “Pinggang Pinoy” that can be useful in planning a healthy-balanced meal in response to the increasing number of diet and lifestyle-related diseases afflicting Filipinos, young and old alike. It’s a quick reference on the whole-day food intake recommendation for Filipinos along the concept of GO, GROW and GLOW.  The ‘pinggan’ (plate) suggests bigger intake of whole grains and vegetables, and the upper part, less red meat, sugar, fats and oils in the Filipino diet.

FNRI is pushing for brown rice or ‘unpolished rice’ whose short shelf-life of one to four months has been extended up to nine months through a process that they have developed. For health buffs, brown rice has more nutritional and healthful benefits than white rice.  Its bran layer is known to be rich in dietary fiber, minerals  and B vitamins.

The issue of rice sufficiency and market price is not in the context of this paper. So do the latest media commentaries that there are no more young people joining the senior citizen rice farmers countrywide, even in the Cordillera rice terraces.

Outcome 7 is focused on education. DOST runs the Philippine Science High School System that has regional campuses, and aims to make PSHS the best science school in the ASEAN.

DOST is also offering S&T scholarships to university undergraduate and graduate students. To “produce highly skilled and globally competitive human resources in S&T in support of the national S&T programs,” it has launched a campaign to have one “science scholar” per municipality.

For Outcome 8 (disaster preparedness), DOST works closely with PAGASA, PHIVOLCS, Project NOAH and UP DREAM.

Netizens know that they can now download from Project NOAH’s website information on typhoons, rainfall probability, historical flood maps, weather monitoring, and data on storm surge and landslides.

The nation-wide UP Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment for Mitigation [DREAM] project taps “cutting-edge technologies in disaster science research  [such as] LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] to generate high-resolution, detailed, and up-to-date national elevation maps and data sets for 19 critical river basins in the country – the most flood-prone and high-risk areas.”  These river basins are: Marikina-Pasig, Bicol, Cagayan (Mindanano), Iligan, Pampanga, Agno, Jalaur, Ilog-Hilabangan, Panay, Davao, Mag-asawang Tubig, Agus, Tagum-Libuganon, Tagoloan, Buayan-Malungan, Agusan, Cagayan, Mindanao, Infanta and Lucena, whose catchment areas total 103,515 sq km.

Data acquired from airborne LiDAR will be processed and calibrated, and then validated through ground survey.  Flood models and hazard maps will be generated from these data, which will “allow early warning of at least six hours ... sufficient lead time to prepare people and communities for evacuation and appropriate response.”

PAGASA has embarked on its modernization to eventually allow a 7-day weather forecast, and eventually seasonal forecasts with the addition of new additional Doppler radars.  PHIVOLCS is also beefing up its earthquake monitoring network, and it also maintains a tsunami monitoring network.

In closing, we noted that Outcome timelines are finite bound to 2016, the last year of the Aquino administration. May be these are for specific hardware and services acquisitions with the overall ‘Science Nation’ vision/mission transcending the narrow confines of six-year election periods. S&T developments are continuing, after all, and thus, not time bound. 

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