Incoming DOST chief reveals plans, priorities

By , on June 7, 2016

Incoming Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato De La Peña was Assistant to the Executive Director of UP's  National Engineering Center from 1979 to 1988.  (Photo: UP's National Engineering Center website)
Incoming Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato De La Peña was Assistant to the Executive Director of UP’s National Engineering Center from 1979 to 1988.
(Photo: UP’s National Engineering Center website)

MANILA – Incoming Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato De La Peña shared his plans and priorities on Monday with the Philippines News Agency (PNA).

“My top priorities will be on R&D (research and development) to address pressing concerns on health, agriculture and the process industries,” he said.

De La Peña cited that he will also prioritize programs that will hasten development in the regions, as well as science and technology (S&T) policies that will push sustainable growth.

When he assumes the agency’s top post on June 30, De La Peña said his initial top programs are expanding the reach of DOST services in the regions, particularly in the underprivileged sectors; helping the DOST scholars to be able to serve the country and utilize their services; and increasing utilization of facilities, research outputs and human resource expertise to push for growth and development.

The former DOST undersecretary emphasized that the R&D industry will flourish if there will be lots of investors in technology intensive businesses.

“There will be many investors in this area if the economic climate is good, if the industry-academe-government linkages are strong and effective, and if we have enough human resources in advanced S&T areas who can be tapped by the industry,” he explained.

With regard to human resource development, De La Peña said he would like to improve access.

“There are many universities in the regions, especially the state universities and colleges (SUCs), which can be delivering institutions for S&T scholarship degree programs,” De La Peña cited.

He continued, “A little more help from the government will help them improve their capacity, capability, quality and attractiveness so that more scholars will stay in their respective regions to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) program.”

STEM program, formerly called the Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP) was piloted by the DOST in 1994. It is a science and mathematics-oriented curriculum being offered in specialized high schools and supervised by the Department of Education.

According to De La Peña, though President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has not spoken specifically about S&T, one can see Duterte’s priorities that can be addressed by science and technology – through R&D, S&T services and human resources development.

“He has repeatedly stated his emphasis on health, agriculture and food, education, and hastening the development in the regions,” De La Peña said, adding that Duterte wants the ordinary citizens to feel the services of the government.

“The DOST programs and projects will support his priorities,” he said.

Meanwhile, DOST Secretary Mario Montejo previously told PNA that he hopes the next DOST chief will continue “Agham na Ramdam,” the agency’s nationwide Science Nation Tour.

It is the agency’s way of showcasing DOST-developed scientific and technological advancements in every region, thus making every Filipino feel the S&T’s impacts in his/her life.

The incoming secretary said “Agham na Ramdam” is very good. “We just have to consider the cost/benefit in carrying out our programs,” he added.

A surprise appointment

Weeks before De La Peña’s appointment, the science community, including himself, was clueless about who would be the next DOST secretary.

De La Peña said that through a Davao-based colleague, he was asked to submit his curriculum vitae (CV) last May 26.After reflecting on it, he submitted his CV on May 27.

“My philosophy is, when one is asked to serve, he/she should serve,” he told PNA.

The 66-year-old B.S. Chemical Engineering graduate got a call from Duterte’s office on May 30, asking him to fly to Davao on May 31, the day he was told he will be assigned at DOST and was introduced at the press conference as one of the new Cabinet members.

“It was a surprise for me. Many people were also surprised,” he admitted.

On accepting the post, De La Peña said it was because he doesn’t want to blame himself later that he was asked to serve and he refused.

“The thing is to do my job best given the many limitations and constraints. I (will) move out from my retirement comfort zone to active duty again, which will entail sacrifices,” he stressed.

Aside from being a former DOST undersecretary, De La Peña also headed the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) as its president from 2002 to 2007.

From 2011 to present, he is the president of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST).