In the modern global economy, the importance of scientific research and technical innovation cannot be overstated. China, the United States, South Korea and Japan remain leaders in this field, but the importance of continual innovation has become so important that Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasised the need for Chinese scientists to concentrate and intensify their efforts in the most cutting edge realms of 21st century research including artificial intelligence, the curing of chronic diseases, environmentally sustainable energy production and micro technologies. Because of this China is set to lead a wider Asian science and tech revolution whose discoveries will benefit the entire world.
Seizing on this pan-Asian trend, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has just signed the Balik Science Act which allows men and women of Filipino origin who are citizens abroad to conduct scientific research in modern facilities in The Philippines while receiving government grants for their work, living conditions and a no-hassle visa.
According to the new law,
“The program shall aim to strengthen the scientific and technological human resources of the academic, public and private institutions, including locally registered enterprises in order to promote knowledge sharing and accelerate the flow of new technologies into the country”.
But while the new Balik laws is a very important first step towards opening The Philippines to an entrepreneurial spirit in the sciences, the existing program must be expanded so that the country can fully reap the benefits of being on the font line of science and technology research and development. At present, global demand for new technologies, medicines, sustainable energy and artificial intelligence is at an all time high, yet in spite of this, the potential of many great scientific minds remains untapped because of the restrictive bureaucratic regulations in many countries, including the United States and throughout the European Union.
The solution for this is for The Philippines to position itself as a global magnet of scientists, beginning with Filipinos born and living abroad while eventually expanding to non-Filipino scientists. For scientists having difficulty funding or conducting their research abroad, the Philippine government can offer incentives for scientists to live and work in The Philippines in an atmosphere that encourages experimentation without overly burdensome regulation. The fact that the cost of living in The Philippines is lower than in the US, EU, Japan and South Korea combined with the fact that English is an official language, automatically make The Philippines an attract place for internationally minded entrepreneurs and scholars. That being said, there is far more the government and local businesses can do to boost a neglected reputation for attracting the world’s best and brightest.
Furthermore, for those looking to invent and manufacture new technologies, the government could doubly incentivise individual inventors and tech companies to re-locate their operations to The Philippines and produce their innovative products locally. This could help to bolster the economy in the medium and long term by bringing in a new hi-tech manufacturing sector into The Philippines and thus, the social benefits and grants given to researchers upon their arrival in The Philippines should be viewed as an investment in a profitable and socially beneficial industrial base.
Under such an environment, the initial Balik program could grow to represent a series of new science and technology campuses and thus cement a permanent infrastructural presence of the global scientific community in The Philippines.
Profound changes are needed in the currently lagging Philippine tech sector. Like Singapore, The Philippines must open its doors to the best and brightest throughout the world in order to capitalise on the potential that not just The Philippines but many other countries are currently lacking. The keys to success are a welcoming environment which includes updated technology infrastructure, better high-speed internet access, tax incentives for tech producers and manufactures who locate to The Philippines, lower regulations on cutting edge experimentation vis-a-vis nations with already large science and tech centres and finally, the construction of new technology campuses where the world can come to see the forefront of innovation in The Philippines.
The new Balik law is step in the right direction but it is ultimately the first small step of what should be a long term plan to transform The Philippines into a global hub for innovation and research excellence.