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S&T policy: rhetoric and reality

During the American rule in the Philippines, science and technology policy was outwardly benevolent and paternalistic but implicitly colonial in purpose. The early articles in the first issues of the Philippine Journal of Science were mostly aimed at investigating the country's natural resources, which were extremely useful to the colonizers. There were inventories of flora and fauna in various places, analyses of local minerals, taxonomy, geologic explorations, and tropical medicine. There was practically no "frontier" research in which the motive was simply to discover and elaborate the laws of nature. The Filipino scientists generally served as apprentices to the American researchers.

The scientist as classifier, data-gatherer, and taxonomist became the model of the Filipino students. Many of the first American-trained Filipino scientists were cast in this image. The scientist as a technician rather than a discoverer became a tradition which persists up to the present time. This is the taxonomy tradition in science in the Philippines. Its non-biological equivalents are, for example, the irradiation of various local materials, the chemistry of Philippine natural products, and the geology of various sites in the country.

There was no serious attempt to introduce industrial technology in the Philippines. The first colleges were the College of Agriculture (1909) and the College of Medicine (1910). Industrial technology was introduced later, in 1926, with the establishment of the Philippine School of Arts and Trades. Although a College of Engineering was established at the UP in 1910, engineering was not actively promoted, with the exception of civil engineering, which was needed for the construction of public facilities and for the surveying and mapping of the country. It was perhaps for this reason that the Philippines today has significant capability in this field. Philippine construction and surveying firms are carrying out projects in other countries.

The recognition of the importance of science and technology in the Philippines has not been wanting. In the 1935 Constitution, there is a provision (Article XII, section 4) which affirms: "the State shall promote scientific research and inventions." In the 1973 Constitution, the provision even clarified the role of S&T in development. Article XV, section 9(1), states: "The State shall promote scientific research and invention. The advancement of S&T shall have priority in national development. "

The first concrete step in the implementation of the constitutional policy on science and technology was the enactment of the Science Act of 1958 (Republic Act 2067). It reaffirmed, in no uncertain terms, the belief in S&T as a tool for national development.

However, the picture that emerges from the actual allocation of government resources belies these good intentions. Upon its creation, the National Science Development Board was given a lump appropriation for five years. During this period, the growth rate in R&D expenditure was apparently a healthy 12.3 per cent. However, the average growth rates of all other government expenditure at that time was 13.0 per cent. Thus, the S&T sector received no special treatment. On the contrary, after the lump sum period, when NSDB had to compete with other government agencies, the growth rate for R&D funds was less than 1 per cent.5

In more recent times, the appropriation for NSTA has been, in general, declining as a percentage of the national budget. This is shown in figure 2. The sudden increase in 1983 was merely due to the reorganization of NSDB into NSTA: some new agencies were created or were attached to NSTA, resulting in an apparent increase in appropriations. Figure 3, which shows the R&D budget of NSTA as a fraction of the national budget, demonstrates the government's real attitude towards S&T research.

In sharp contrast with the financial reality, the rhetoric of presidential statements of policy have been bold, ebullient, and encouraging. Support for science in the Philippines has become something like motherhood statements. In the budget message of 1957, the President said: "Scientific research shall be intensified and accelerated, scientists adequately paid, because the results of our scientific investigations are the bases of economic and social progress." In 1966, in the State of the Nation Address, the President stated: "Our best efforts shall be directed to encourage the development of research." In 1968, the President once again bravely asserted that the country would "put scientific research on a systematic and continuing basis and it [in reference to a proposed, but never realized, science centre] will become the focal point of the scientific effort of the nation."

These statements were by three different Presidents of the Republic. Statements of this nature are common during science weeks, sponsored by the NSTA. NSTA usually takes them seriously as policy statements and formulates programmes accordingly, only to be disappointed at the actual results.

There have been three major policy episodes in science and technology in the Philippines, corresponding roughly to the present, the 1970s, and the 1960s. In the 1960s, the slogan was "import substitution," which mimicked the economic thrust of the government. Four priority areas were identified:

1. Basic needs and import substitution.
2. Quality improvement of exports.
3. Waste materials and product utilization.
4. Science promotion and education.

Looking back and evaluating the tangible results of this effort, it was only in education that the policy possibly made some mark. This was simply because of the continuous support of NSDB scholarships. Some curricular materials for science subjects were developed at UP.

In the 1970s, the battle cry was "mission-oriented research." Although several S&T missions were identified and planned' none was actually funded or implemented. The inertia of the R&D community in doing what they have been doing, and the antipathy toward the Marcos administration, ultimately led to the demise of the policy and the NSDB administration that supported it. The policy package also included organizational reforms of the NSDB. These were the only ones that were actually realized. Organizational changes are always easier to undertake than programmatic changes.

Fig. 2. NSTA general budget, 1976-1985

Fig. 3. R&D allotment of the NSTA, 1976-1985

The general policies of the NSTA for the 1980s were the following:

1. The strengthening of the support system for industries, and the emphasis on mission-oriented research for agriculture, natural resources, health, and energy.

2. The provision of increased resources for S&T, particularly for R&D and manpower development.

3. The strengthening of regional S&T institutions in order to encourage industrial dispersal and country development.

4. Encouraging the scientific community to evolve largely self-regulatory but centrally coordinated R&D organizations that would promote creativity and minimize administrative impediments. "Demand-pull strategy" was the policy strategy of the early 1980s. This was accompanied by an elaborate National Science and Technology Plan. To a certain extent, the demand-pull strategy accomplished its goals. Some consumer products, such as soy sauce, bath soap, salt, and charcoal, were produced in cooperation with private industry and eventually marketed.

The National Science and Technology Plan was obviously the work of a committee. It contained a good number of priority areas, from ecology to micro-electronics' that could not possibly be supported at any reasonable level by the meagre funds of the NSTA. As previously, no specific missions were identified and pursued under a mission-oriented approach. The flamboyant commitment made by statutes and plans to S&T had not been matched by the outlay of financial resources.

An examination of the kind of research projects undertaken by the NIST from 1946 to 1982 shows a continuation of the emphasis on the analysis and use of Philippine natural products: earthenware from Philippine clays, sweet potato flour, powdered dills (dried fish), oxalic and oxalates from Philippine vegetables, cottonization of ramie fibers, and others of the same genre.6

Thus, there was no essential departure from the colonial S&T policy. The only difference was that there were no American overseers. This kind of research has acquired so much momentum that it continues to command the commitment of a significant fraction of R&D funds. While its importance cannot be denied, the resulting inhibition of the development of other scientific fields is unfortunate. The colonial policy has a historical momentum, a life of its own, as it were. It appears to be impervious to policy innovations. The most difficult problem in S&T policy formulation seems to be the cultivation of the receptivity of the political leaders and the science community itself to new policy directions.

The economic history of the Philippines is one of chronic crisis and increasing poverty for an increasing number of its citizens. This is reflected in the continous devaluation of the Philippine peso from 2 pesos to the US dollar in 1946 to 20 pesos to the dollar in 1986. Poverty has also inexorably increased. Forty years ago, about 40 per cent of the population was below the poverty line. Today, the figure could be as high as 85 per cent.7 Although the economy showed impressive gains in the three decades after the Second World War,8 the lasting foundations for sustainable growth in terms of indigenous capability to support modern productive processes were not put into place. In spite of the respectable increase in Net Domestic Product in the last few decades, Philippine economic development was accompanied by high rates of unemployment, wide disparities in income distribution, and regional concentration of productive facilities in the Metro Manila area.

During the period 1949-1969, the annual average growth of manufacturing was an impressive 8.5 per cent. However? this was mostly illusory industrialization, because there was negligible enhancement of local technological capability. Furthermore, the policy merely favoured the manufacture of import-substituting consumer goods and discriminated against the manufacture of capital goods and exports.

The lack of concern for the technological aspects of industrialization is also reflected by the expenditures of private industry on R&D. In a survey of the 50 largest industrial firms in 1956, it was found that only 350,000 pesos were spent for R&D.9

The early exuberant growth of manufacturing in the Philippines in the 1950s was not sustainable because it was not self-reliant growth. It was not based on local technological capability, and it did not rely on local innovation and international competitiveness for growth. It was simple import-substitution with most of the capital goods and technology imported.

Dependence on foreign technology is apparent in the predominance of foreign brands in the Philippine consumer market. To a certain extent, this was the result of the early industrialization efforts based on an undiscriminating import-substitution policy. The case of the cigarette industry provides an interesting insight. Before the 1950s, there were many local brands of cigarettes. When the American brands were introduced in the 1960s, local brands were pushed into oblivion. What eventually survived were those companies with strong links to American companies.

Because of the failure of the policies of the 1960s to stimulate the industrial sector, a package of attractive incentives was put together in the form of the Industrial Incentives Act of 1967. The Act was aimed at stimulating investment in industrial enterprises, and consisted primarily of fiscal inducements. In subsequent legislation (P.D. 92), fiscal incentives were also provided to promote labour intensiveness and backward integration.

Yet these incentives did not include a provision on the transfer of technology and the assurance of a learning process for local technologists. Although a Technology Transfer Board was created, the main motivation was to safeguard the interests of local investors and not to ensure a real technology transfer.

In spite of the Industrial Incentives Act and its obvious attractions, industrial growth was very modest in the 1970s (table 3). Only a few took advantage of the government incentives. In 1973, there were only 131 firms registered with the government."' It was clear that entrepreneurs had no real interest in new, pioneering ventures- an attitude which persists up to the present.

The uneven growth of agriculture since the 1950s (table 2) and the lack of a outstanding performance indicates that the relatively heavy emphasis on agricultural R&D was not significant.

The general picture of S&T manpower in the Philippines is shown in table 4. In this table, the 1965 data, obtained from the Survey of Scientific and Technological Manpower conducted by the NSDB in 1965, serve as the baseline figures. Using these figures, the future supply of S&T manpower was calculated from the data on graduates of the country's educational system.

Table 3. Average annual growth rates of domestic product (1972 prices) by industrial origin, 1949-1982 (percentages)

  1949-53 1953-57 1957-61 1961-65 1965-69 1969-73 1973-77 1978-82
Agriculture 7.7 4.3 4.2 4.6 4.0 3.4 5.4 4.1
Industrial sector 8.8 8.1 3.7 5.8 5.5 7.3 8.1 4.9
Mining 23.5 7.7 1.0 2.7 14.6 11.4 4.3 3.2
Manufacturing 14.1 11.1 5.7 4.8 6.6 7.5 5.0 3.8
Construction 0.3 2.6 -1.6 10.8 -0.6 5.2 21.8 8.7
Utilities 3.6 5.7 2.5 3.0 5.3 7.9 11.2 9.0
Service sector 9.4 0.6 4.6 4.6 4.7 4.6 5.2 4.7
Net domestic product 8.6 6.2 4.2 4.8 4.6 4.9 6.1 4.3

Source: National Accounts Staff, National Economic and Development Authority.

Table 4. S&T manpower in the Philippines


Scientists and engineers


Working in R&D


Breakdown by field of education training (units)

Year Population(in unite) Total stock (in units) Total number (in units) Natural sciences Engineering and technology Agricultural sciences Medical sciences Social sciences
1965 31,886,081 81,600 25,600 1,838 11,900 2,187 5,575 4,100
1970 36,684,981 100,385 31,493 2,261 14,638 2,690 6,858 5,044
1975 42,070,660 115,482 36,230 2,601 16,840 3,094 7,890 5,802
1979 47,719,000 128,897 40,433 2,903 18,793 3,453 8,805 6,476
1985 53,108,000 157,000 - - - - - -
1990 59,846,000 177,026 - - - - - -

Source: UNESCO.

The following observations could be made from the manpower figures:

1. The proportions of scientists and engineers increased only slightly, from 26.5 per 10,000 in the 1960s to 27.0 per 10,000 in the 1970s. This is expected to remain more or less constant up to the 1990s. The growth rates are quite low. The numbers appear to be rather high when compared to more developed countries. However, a small fraction of the total S&T manpower has graduate training and fewer still are engaged in R&D.

2. In the natural sciences, there were marked increases. For the 1980s, increases in all fields are predicted except in agriculture. However, growth rates will decrease.

3. The trend shows that the number of scientists and engineers in R&D will increase, but at a decreasing rate.

There were 1,157 colleges and universities in the Philippines in 1984. About ?3 per cent of these were private schools. Of the graduates of these schools, classified by field, only 22 per cent studied engineering and the sciences.11 The state of science education in the country is perhaps reflected by the figures in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. In a survey conducted by the Kilusan ng mga Siyentipiko sa Pilipinas, the following facts were reported

1. In the 1970s, there were 250 chemists. Only 15 per cent of them had graduate degrees.

2. In physics, there were 21 Ph.D.s and 15 M.Sc. degree-holders. Only 10 were actively engaged in research. More than 95 per cent of college physics teachers did not have a B.Sc. physics degree.

3. In mathematics, fewer than 1 per cent of the teachers had Ph.D. degrees.

4. There were only 10 institutions which were doing research. The University of the Philippines had 75 per cent of the total research projects.

Tables 5 and 6 reflect the allocation of financial resources for R&D. Three general sources are: the government, the private sector (private industry and foundations), and foreign sources.

Table 5. R&D expenditures: Breakdown by source and sector of performance, 1979
(in thousands of pesos)

Sector of performance


Foreign Total
Government funds Other funds
Productive 820 75,815 876 77,511
Higher education 84,250 49,347 - 133,597
General service 166,914 53,871 14,148 234,933
Total 216,372 143,579 7,830 367,781

Source: UNESCO, Science and Technology in Countries of Asia and the Pacific Policies, Organization and Resources, Paris: UNESCO, 1985.

Table 6. R&D expenditure: trends

Year Population (millions) GNP (in millions of pesos) Total R&D expenditure (in thousands of pesos) R&D expenditure as percentage of GNP Per capita R&D expenditure
1965 31.886 23,382 41,198 0.18 1.29
1970 36.685 41,751 65,056 0.16 1.77
1975 42.071 114,265 239,233 0.21 5.69
1979 47.719 220,935 446,041 0.20 9.35
1985 53.108 475,147 985,455 0.21 18.56
1990 59.846 979,089 2,046,748 0.21 34.20

Source: UNESCO, Science and Technology in Countries of Asia and the Pacific: Policies, Organization and Resources, Paris: UNESCO, 1985.

Table 7. Per capita government budget for education

Schools Cost per student (1982 pesos)
Public elementary schools 392
National secondary schools 1,037
Locally funded high schools 123
Government tertiary schools 5,636

Source: MECS and NSTA, Science Education Development Plan, Vol. 1, November 19X5.

It is worth noting that in 1979 about 69 per cent of the total R&D funds were provided by the government. The private sector contributed about 39 per cent, with foreign sources contributing about 2 per cent. The total amount spent for R&D was 367 million pesos (US$50 million). As seen in table 6, the expenditure on R&D as a fraction of the GNP is not expected to change significantly up to 1990.

Looking at trends in R&D expenditure in the decade ending in 1975, there was no significant change in terms of US dollar values. In 1983-1985, there was a significant decrease in the US dollar values of R&D expenditures because of inflation.

In regard to expenditure in education at the tertiary level, the 313 government colleges and universities were allocated 717 million pesos in 1983-1984. The country's investment in education is shown in table 7.

The institutions engaged in S&T activities are shown in figure 4. Three categories are used: R&D agencies, S&T education and training, and S&T services and delivery.

Fig. 4. Institutional network (Source: UNESCO)

The mechanisms and interrelationships in this network are as follows:

1. The R&D institutions are linked through the NSTA and its policy councils. R&D in the universities and colleges is coordinated through the grants-in-aid programme of the NSTA. 2. The private and government educational institutions produce the manpower for the R&D and S&T services and delivery systems.

3. In S&T services, those provided by the private sector are also utilized by the government. On the other hand, the information services of the universities are used by both the government and the private sector.

4. In the delivery of S&T services, government agencies that have commercially viable technologies are assisted in contacting private industry for possible ventures. The principal agency for S&T development is the National Science and Technology Authority (NSTA), whose organizational chart is shown in figure S. While the NSTA attempts to centralize S&T activities, almost the entire government bureaucracy is involved in one way or another.

The R&D of various research institutes is intended to be coordinated by the various councils of the NSTA. Except in the case of agriculture and natural resources, this has not been very successful.

In 1978, a "consortium concept" was introduced by the NSTA. The general idea was to pool the resources of the various S&T units, particularly the universities. In 1983, another concept called "science communities" was included in the growing lexicon of S&T in the Philippines. Four science communities were established: the Bicutan, Diliman, Ermita, and Los Banos. These communities are groupings of research and academic institutions that are in physical proximity to each other. They are expected to promote an environment of productive and creative interaction and cooperation among the members. Housing and other social amenities are supposed to be provided. Sharing of facilities and resources is encouraged.

In the Philippines, foundations registered with the NSTA enjoy some privileges, such as tax exemptions, provided they do scientific and technological R&D. In 1979, there were 69 foundations registered. The top three in terms of R&D expenditure are the Population Centre Foundation, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Filipinas Foundation. None of these is engaged in R&D in the hard sciences. In private industry, there were 118 private firms engaged in R&D in 1980. Most of the R&D was in the areas of textiles, paper products, food, beverages, tobacco, and chemicals.

Fig. 5. Present NSTA organizational chart

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