By Federico M. Macaranas AFTER posting its highest growth rate in more than three decades in 2007, the Philippine economy is poised to slow down in 2008 on account of external factors whose domestic impact its managers cannot fully tame. This should be less of a problem for those who are more long-term oriented and less swayed by medium-term political goals. After all, given the past economic reforms in banking and finance (capital adequacy ratios of commercial banks and the expanded value-added tax) among others, it is these long-term factors that really matter for sustained growth. Yet short-term gains from the much-vaunted outsourcing bonanza that could result from the US slowdown, as corporations cut down costs, should be taken with much caution. Even the call for greater financial integration in the region espoused by the ADB should be tempered with a focus on the production of real goods and services -- lest the economy be trapped forever in its low-level growth. More fundamental than these financial factors is the need for the Philippines to align its economic growth with the path taken by dynamic Asia-Pacific countries and the developed world -- a path that is based on innovation and technology. But more productive raw materials or chemicals, machinery or equipment, processing or marketing ideas do not grow out of trees. They come from people, educated men and women -- be they peasants tutored in appropriate technologies rooted in indigenous practices or PhD's able to translate scholarly learning into commercial ventures. Short or even bereft of a science and technology culture, the Philippines must now seriously harness its human resources spread around the world to boost its productive capacity in real goods and services. Services in this case includes an appropriately risk-managed banking and finance system that should respond to the needs of smaller enterprises to generate more jobs relative to capital, and bring about an increase in employment numbers. This is the time to win back more brains to return. Successive Philippine administrations attempted to to do this after the big brain drain in the 1970s and later in the 1990s. But this time around, it is not only the government that must act; the private sector must do its share in permanently harnessing Filipino overseas talents – not through permanent return but through permanent connections, not through remittances alone but transfer of technology and market information. These are the very areas that the private sector can concentrate its efforts on -- but there must be appropriate government policies, both national and local, to attract these overseas resources to come home to roost. Here is where a new public private partnership (PPP) must come in. The Philippines' Balik Scientist (returnee scientist) program should be redesigned to enable the private sector to be its immediate and direct beneficiary in the current priority areas namely: alternative energy, biotechnology, information and communication technology, pharmaceutical, and environment, and even areas outside these government-identified R&D interests. Many agriculturists and fisheries experts, industry specialists, etc. are needed by the country, as special scholarships set up for these fields attest. These areas include biofuels, coco-chemicals, business process outsourcing, herbal medicine, marine remediation and afforestation. The Philippine private sector should be enticed to identify talented Filipinos abroad so that they can partner with them to develop new process technologies or new products. For example, Filipino food scientists abroad can be tapped to help raise farm productivity. Rather than simply market the Balik Scientist Program through the typical academic routes, wouldn’t it be better to try matching available private sector R&D funds with overseas Filipinos who are expert in their fields? This means a call for pro-active public-private partnerships, starting with the development of an inventory of Filipino human resources designed like a talent bank for specific industries. This proposed overseas Filipino talent bank should be a roster that is frequently updated by a public-private group. It can serve as a potential skilled supply base of R&D partners that can be tapped by young entrepreneurs, established firms, cooperatives, etc., in the Philippines. It can be a national roster that can be developed from professional organizations, alumni chapters, hometown associations, etc. based abroad. This talent bank should contain information on the special skills of these expatriate Filipinos, whose homing instincts could be fanned by attractive professional and commercial prospects in their home country -- similar to how Taiwan, Korea, India, China and other countries succeeded in attracting their own nationals to their science parks to incubate new products. Such a human resource talent bank will truly engage the Philippines in planning an innovation and technology-based strategy. After all, are we not in a networking age in the creative knowledge era? Knowing where its talents are at any time could truly be one of the wisest investments the Philippines can make as it reaches the fork of low vs. high growth possibilities -- most recently documented by the study of De La Salle University economist Dr. Michael Alba, in his book on the long-term decline of Philippine competitiveness published by the AIM Policy Center (December 2007). (Editor's note: Author clarifies that Mike Alba is the author of an article in a book published by AIM Policy Center. He is one of several contributors. DLSU did not publish the book). Creative products and services generated by human innovation are the comparative advantage of the Philippines even in a financially volatile global economy. Local production of farm goods and improved logistics services can be stimulated by higher food prices. For example, higher value products and processes are likely to come out of research laboratories -- as the coconut coir ventures being used to prevent soil erosion shows. But more networks abroad are needed by the Philippines to connect to the larger overseas markets, including those that are decoupling from globally frenzied industries as local initiatives are linked to each other through new financial schemes (for sourcing and using of funds) such as carbon credits, pooled financial resources, fair trade, etc . The Science and Technology Advisory Councils (STAC) that were once organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the purpose of linking overseas Filipino high-level talents to Philippine institutions, agencies, firms, universities, etc. through short-term consultancies among others, were funded by a UNDP scheme called TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) that is now managed by UN Volunteers. After about a decade of successfully stirring the interest of top-level scientists and engineers, the Philippine program, which was actually cited by the UNDP TOKTEN administrator as one of the most successful in the world, ceased to operate in 1998 – but many of its chapters and erstwhile members are independently working for the same cause today. It is high time that the Philippines seriously embarks on setting up these talent banks through public-private partnerships. The successful Science and Technology Advisory Councils could serve as a model. Dr. Federico Macaranas is the Executive Director of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center, argues that the Philippines needs to organize its overseas science and technology diaspora into talent pools for possible collaboration with Philippine industry. He currently sits as a Technical Advisory Council member of the bicameral Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering (COMSTE)
Recently in Brain Drain Category
THE SAMAHAN ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM) said the Philippines will continue to lose its best scientists unless it has national industries that accommodate their skills. And the problem, as described by the activist organization of scientists, cannot be solved even by the recent increase in budget to P839 million for the science and technology community. AGHAM national chairperson Giovanni Tapang said in a statement that the budget provided for scholarships and construction of scientific facilities is way below the standard set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is a two percent budget allocation from a country's annual gross domestic product. Tapang noted that even an increase in budget for the Department of Science and Technology would have little or no direct benefit to Filipinos. This is compounded by the fact that research materials by Filipino scientists are from companies that are owned and controlled by foreign entities. Tapang also said that increasing the number of scholars would be useless unless they are assured of possible employment in local industries. "One crucial factor that keeps our science and technology stunted is our dependence on imported goods and the export orientation of our industries which does not leave a place for a highly trained scientist to flourish," Tapang said. For example, investments in the mining industry in the Philippines are more on extraction of ores, instead of processing the ores to get into the raw materials. Tapang said the government should build downstream industries to support the larger mining companies in order to give more jobs to Filipino scientists. "The government's track of depending on foreign investments and exporting our agricultural products and raw materials is stunting the growth of local industries. These local industries could have benefited from the expertise of Filipino scientists and at the same time provided them with opportunities where they can exercise their knowledge and skills. It should comprehensively address this problem," Tapang said.