Senators on Monday passed a proposed bill that would prompt Filipino scientists, engineers, and innovators overseas to fly back to the Philippines by giving them more benefits.
Senate Bill No. 1533, known as the Balik Scientist Act, was approved on its third and final reading with 13 votes in the positive side and zero votes in the negative side.
The bill aims “to bring back Filipino scientists, engineers, and technology entrepreneurs to work in various fields, including heath, food and agriculture, information and communications technology (ICT), and even alternative energy.”
SB 1533 aims to help address the scarcity of scientists, engineers, and experts in the Philippines, who are enticed by foreign countries with better pay and working conditions and facilities.
According to Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, principal author of the bill, the measure would institutionalize the Balik Scientist Program, a program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which was first launched in 1975. This program gives incentives and benefits to Filipino scientists who return to work in the country.
“It is about time that we institutionalized and strengthened the Balik Scientist Program so that more brilliant Filipino minds residing abroad can help our nation move forward into prosperity,” Aquino was quoted in a saying in an Inquirer report.
According to a recent committee hearing lead by Aquino, the Philippines has only 189 scientists per million people, which is a far cry from the ideal ratio of 380 scientist per million.
This figure falls behind South Korea which has 5,300 and United States with 3,500 scientist per million, adding Malaysia with 2,000 scientist per million.
“This is a step towards improving the country’s research and development sector. We must support more initiatives to empower our scientists and researchers,” Aquino said.
The DOST earlier said the Balik Scientist Law will increase funding for the Balik Scientist Program. The budget allotted for this program was at P25-million.
Through Presidential Decree No. 819 in 1975, former president Ferdinand Marcos established the Balik Scientist Program and was implemented until 1986. This was revived by former president Fidel V. Ramos through Executive Order No. 130 in 1993, putting it under the DOST.
The DOST defines “balik scientist” as a science and technology expert or professional who is currently or who was formerly a Filipino citizen or a foreigner of Filipino descent, residing abroad, and are contracted by the government to return and serve in the Philippines for a certain period of time.