In her first state-of-the-nation address in 2001, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo held that “Technology is the foundation of future economic development.”
The Arroyo government’s support to science and technology had since expanded in terms of funding and institutional enhancements covering high impact projects, adoption of enabling laws, directives, and policies.
Education reform that would strengthen science and math in basic education was implemented. Policies were reviewed to plug assorted coordination gaps among public and private institutions, and move public and private S&T budget spending closer to the UNESCO-prescribed one percent of the nation’s GDP.
Science and Engineering Education
Science and engineering education is high on the list of the government’s agenda. In 2007, President Arroyo authorized the Department of Budget and Management to release P200 million to expand graduate and post-graduate scholarships in science and engineering. This is in addition to the P500 million supplemental budget allocated in 2006 to build a national science complex at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
The hefty allocations are committed for the Accelerated S&T Human Resource Development Program (ASTHRD) being implemented by DOST’s Science Education Institute, and the Energy Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) Program. Both programs aim for 1,000 scholars annually.
A consortium of seven universities are implementing the ERDT such as UP-Diliman and UPLB, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Mapua Institute of Technology, University of San Carlos, Central Luzon State College, and Mindanao State University.
The basic objective of ERDT is to produce a significant number of research engineers that hold MS and PhD education, and improve R&D programs in engineering.
The ERDT scholarship can be availed as part of the implementation of R&D projects under DOST’s major thrusts in energy, environment and infrastructure, information and communication technology, and semiconductor and electronics. DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development evaluates project proposals under ERDT’s engineering component.
Disaster Management and Climate Change
Disaster management is another major focus of the government to educate and prepare the public on appropriate responses to the almost regular occurrence of natural disasters. Climate change’s wide-ranging impact to national life, resources, and infrastructure makes it imperative that disaster management must be given utmost importance and support.
In 2006, President Arroyo approved the release of P328 million for the acquisition of Doppler radars for Subic, Tagaytay, and Cebu. The following year, another P202 million went to two additional Doppler radar stations in Mindanao, while about P100 million spread over two years bulked up PAGASA’s resources for the upgrade of natural hazard monitoring equipment.
These capability enhancements allowed the weather agency to monitor localized climate change scenarios with an amplified accuracy in tropical cyclone tracking, weather forecasting, and flood/flashflood prediction.
These are all part of national preparation to enable the country to respond and adapt to climate change, which President Arroyo emphasized in her Independence Day message June 12.
Clean Alternative Energy Sources
The government also resolved to develop indigenous and clean energy sources to reduce the country’s overdependence on expensive fossil fuels.
The Biofuels Law [RA 9367] decrees the use of biofuels particularly the blending of coco-methyl ester (CME) with diesel, and ethanol with gasoline.
PCIERD plays a key role in the implementation of the law as it is responsible for the development and implementation of R&D program on sustainable improvement in biofuel production and utilization technology. It has developed the Biofuel R&D program that involves S&T infrastructure support for the Biofuel Act such as biofuel technology search, assessment, validation and documentation, alternative feedstock identification and development, feedstock raw material and biofuel analysis, performance testing of biofuel from different feedstocks, techno-economic viability assessment of biofuel production plant, and technology promotion and transfer.
PCIERD through DOST’s Industrial Technology Development Institute is currently testing jathropa methyl ester in cooperation with the Philippine National Oil Company. Sweet sorghum, a potential alternative to sugarcane for bioethanol production is being studied.
These alternative energy sources are being pursued because of the availability of domestic raw materials. Importantly, these can reduce vehicle emission of particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, among others while improving fuel efficiency of vehicles.
Meanwhile, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched in October last year the compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling station in Shell Mamplasan Station along the Southern Luzon expressway. Today, CNG-run buses ply main routes in Metro Manila.
The country’s first vehicle research and testing laboratory located in UP Diliman can determine the viability of different alternative fuels, and fuel-saving and emission control devices. This PCIERD-led project complies with the Biofuels Law requirement for the government to provide infrastructure support for assessment, validation, and performance testing of different biofuels from different feedstocks, development of test protocols, standards and regulations including the use of fuel-saving and emission control devices.
Benefits under these initiatives are now being translated to stronger science and engineering human capital, safer environment, and cleaner mass transport system that confirm the Arroyo government’s forward looking investments in science and technology as a fundamental element in national development.