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The vicious circle paradigm

After almost four decades of S&T policy formulation and planning in the Philippines there has been no qualitative improvement in the status of S&T. Certainly, there have been quantitative changes. There are now more S&T and R&D institutions, more scientists and technologists with advanced degrees, more research going on, and more laboratory equipment and tools. In the productive systems there are new indigenously developed technologies being used, especially in agriculture. Although there are new industrial facilities, these are mostly established through turnkey agreements. However, the more crucial process of what Sagasti19 called the "endogenization" of technology has not been achieved, except in some trivial industries like soy sauce and soap manufacture. Endogenization would require a strong feedback linkage between scientific and technological R&D and the country's production systems. In general, technological skills have not gone beyond the operative stage.

The severe economic crisis of 1983 exposed the almost total dependence of the Philippine production system on the importation of the means of production and inputs. The near total inability of the local S&T system also became quite clear. The crisis of 1983 was only one of a series that have occurred periodically since the 1940s. It was just another manifestation of the underlying backwardness of S&T in the Philippines- its dependence on foreign technology and capital to sustain the economic life of the country.

To understand the anatomy of the failure of endogenization would require insights into the country's political economy and its links to the evolutionary process of growth in the national S&T culture, the nature of modern S&T itself, and the present geopolitical environment.

In the present world economic and technological order, the Philippines is at a serious disadvantage. Because of its scientific and technological backwardness, it cannot produce the equipment and machinery needed to transform raw materials into manufactured goods. As a consequence of this incapacity to produce its own means of production, the national economy has to depend on the importation of foreign technologies in the form of manufacturing processes, producer goods, and even complete production facilities in order to meet the consumer needs of the domestic market.

To finance the country's technological dependence on imported technologies, the national economy relies on the export of low value added products and raw materials such as sugar, coconut oil, logs, copper concentrates, handicrafts, and other minerals. The so-called semiconductor industries of the Philippines are merely the labour-intensive assembly operations of multinational companies. As a result, the Philippines finds itself locked into the international division of labour, playing the role of the exporter of primary commodities and importer of production technologies. It has subordinated its development to the loans and dictates of the international capitalist system.

Part of today's geopolitical reality is the growing militant awareness of third-world countries regarding sovereignty over their natural resources and economy. On the other hand, the industrialized countries are strongly asserting their proprietary rights over some vital technologies. Certainly, some hard bargaining can be expected regarding access to technologies and natural resources. Careful planning and strategy formulation will be required by third-world countries in order to obtain an equitable deal. This will require a good measure of self-reliance in S&T.

Modern S&T is very different in character from the S&T of the early years of the Industrial Revolution. Before, most industrial skills were accumulated knowledge learned through long practice. Today we have a science-driven technology which means that innovations in technology arise out of fundamental scientific R&D. There are "technology factories" controlled by big transnational corporations, where systematic mission-oriented R&D is undertaken. Some well-known examples are atomic energy, computers, and telecommunications. Commercial technologies are therefore considered to be products of a long-term investment of venture capital. These commercial technologies are the carefully guarded properties of transnational corporations. Their transfer to other parties is made with deliberate care and involves huge payments. If third-world countries are to achieve a state of excellence that can compete with the industrialized countries, they must be able to match the modern R&D infrastructures in some particular problem areas.

These are just some of the important factors that must be considered in the effort to understand why some countries, like the Philippines, seem to be trapped in backwardness and underdevelopment.

For purposes of organized analysis and strategy formulation, it is useful to construct a conceptual model to represent the salient features of the forces shaping the character of S&T in the Philippines. This model also summarizes in a concise way the rather complex feedback relationships among the numerous factors that effect the state of S&T in this country. This conceptual model is represented by figure 15, which depicts the vicious circle paradigm of S&T in the Philippines.

Some of the principal driving forces of the vicious circle are historical factors. The legacy of colonial S&T is one of the major causes of the present weakness in endogenous S&T capacity. Of course, it can be argued that there was no significant indigenous S&T before the first contacts with the West. However, the point being made here is that the colonial policies actually inhibited the emergence of a relevant and nationalistic community of scientists and technologists. During the Spanish colonial era, S&T was discouraged in favour of more classical learning. In the American era, Philippine S&T was directed towards the service of colonial objectives. Scientific and technological R&D were not linked to the local production systems. S&T was and still is not relevant to the country's economy.

Fig. 15. The vicious cycle of technological dependence and backwardness

The momentum of these forces and the hostile social ecology of S&T that they create are responsible for the present weakness in endogenous S&T capacity. Since the local S&T is inadequate to serve economic needs, the necessary technologies are imported. The widespread use of foreign technology has many undesirable consequences: foreign investments, loss of control over decision-making and the emergence of a pattern of consumption and production based on developed-country tastes. A local vested interest in foreign technology is also created in the process. When foreign experts and executives enter a country, they easily establish strong ties with the local political and business Úlites. The developed country's interests are thus internalized in ways that effectively inhibit attempts to break the dependent relationships. This can strongly affect future options that are more advantageous for the host country as a whole. In this situation, local S&T becomes irrelevant to production, which further weakens it because of the lack of effective demand for local S&T products and services. The situation is a self-reinforcing, negative feedback loop that marginalizes the indigenous S&T institutions.

The other main driving forces of the vicious circle are contextual factors originating from the social, political, and economic environment. The most significant factor in Philippine social reality is the lack of self-reliant attitudes on the part of scientists and engineers. The peer group of scientists is the larger world scientific community. The local science community is not large enough to constitute a viable community with its own set of professional values. The engineering community, on the other hand, lacks a useful R&D attitude. The science group is isolated from the engineering group. There is practically no linkage between the two and both look up to the West as a model for emulation. Local scientists and engineers usually serve as consultants to foreign firms and contribute indirectly to the perpetuation of the vested interest in foreign technology and the demand for foreign products. The sense of being an identifiable and recognized actor whose views are sought and expected to influence social choices is absent.

The nature and character of the country's development philosophy implicitly abets the vicious circle. Since independence, the Philippines has deliberately courted foreign investment and technology transfer. It is obvious that the direct social costs of foreign investment are, as shown in figure 15, the stimulation of demand for foreign products and the creation of local vested interests for its perpetuation. Technology transfer is largely unregulated in terms of the actual learning process. There has been very little impact on the local S&T capacity.

The fact that the country is underdeveloped is in itself a contributory factor to the vicious circle. There are two aspects to this. One is the highly distorted distribution of wealth, in which 85 per cent of the national assets are owned by 15 per cent of the population. The result is that the wealthy have a natural preference for imported goods and the poor do not have sufficient purchasing power to encourage local production. In a sense this is another vicious circle within the vicious circle of S&T backwardness. The other aspect is the timidity of the wealthy class in risking investments in technology-intensive ventures. The outlook of the rich has always been in the traditional sectors like banking, agribusiness, insurance, real estate, and merchandising.

Some of the important political factors that tend to reinforce the vicious circle are the state's perception of the importance of S&T and the instability of the bureaucracy.

The breaking of the vicious circle will require strong political initiatives. However, S&T has not really been perceived by political leaders as crucial to the long-term success of the development programme. In spite of the political rhetoric, the problems of S&T are often overwhelmed by the more urgent political problems. It is apparent that a political consensus on the significance and priority of S&T has not yet been realized.

Since the early 1970s, the Philippine bureaucracy has been characterized by instability. Leaders at the ministerial level and the organizational structures have changed so often that it is extremely difficult to pursue a consistent policy. Even in S&T, policy directions have been in constant flux. The management of S&T has not made a dent on the vicious circle.

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