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DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People

August 11, 2019

Of all the agencies in Philippine government, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) may not be in the news very often but it certainly remains to be among the most interesting sources of growth and development whose potential only grows stronger over time.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 1

Mandated by Executive Order No. 128 “to provide central direction, leadership and coordination of scientific and technological efforts and ensure that the results therefrom are geared and utilized in areas of maximum economic and social benefits for the people,” the DoST strives to formulate policies and projects to better the quality of life of Filipinos.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 2
Incumbent DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña during his tenure as Technology Application and Promotion Institute (TAPI) Director with the late President Corazon Aquino.

Originally established as the National Science Development Board in June 13, 1958 under then President Carlos P. Garcia, the department was reorganized as the National Science and Technology Authority (NSTA) in March 17, 1981 to broaden its policy-making and program implementing functions. It was not until January 30, 1987, under President Corazon Aquino, that the NSTA was elevated to the cabinet-level status that we know today as DoST, with the signing of the aforementioned Executive Order 128.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 3
With President Rodrigo Duterte and fellow Cabinet Members Secretary Ramon Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry (leftmost) and Secretary Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic and Development Authority (second from right).
DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 4
President Duterte visits Davao City Opening of the 2017 National Science and Technology Week Celebration which was organized under the leadership of his top man at DoST.
DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 5
At the launch of the Philippine microsatellite Diwata 2 in Kukinaga, Japan in November 2018.

Unbeknown to many, DoST is comprised of more than 18 sub-agencies ranging from Collegial and Scientific Bodies to Sectoral Planning Councils, and Research and Development Institutes to Scientific and Technological Services among others. While this rundown of facts about the agency hardly helps to explain its basic function and relevance to everyday Filipinos, its current head, Secretary Fortunato “Boy” de la Peña, sees to it that part of his priorities in leading the department is to disseminate a clearer understanding of its work, value and results among the people.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 6
A visit by Biotechnology Nobel Prize winner Richard Albert.

Because while scientists are usually thought of as individuals in lab coats and detached from society as geniuses working with complex formulas, machines and inventions intended for the future, his personal motto has always been “Science for the People.” And with this, he has gone far and wide in his career through the years, earning this post at the pinnacle of science, research and development in the country still with the unaltered and simple goal of making a difference in Filipino lives.

As de la Peña revealed to The Sunday Times Magazine in this exclusive interview at the sidelines of DoST’s Science Teachers Academy for the Regions (STAR) Project [a government endeavor for quality training for science and math teachers], “I am a person who has never lost optimism as far as our country is concerned. So when all my [Chemical Engineering] batchmates left to find jobs abroad in 1969, I said to myself I will stay behind and do the best I can within my field for the country. Fifty years later, we still have much to do, but I haven’t lost hope that the Filipino can still catch up and contribute to the world’s advancements in science and technology for the good of all.”

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 7
A train ride to mark the turnover of the DoST’s Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC) to the Philippine National Railways (PNR) in June. The MIRDC was developed Hybrid Electric Train (HET).

How de la Peña nurtured this formidable determination, and where he hopes to ultimately bring his motto, “Science for the People,” as Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, follows in this interesting and inspiring one-on-one interview with this patriotic man of science.

The Sunday Times Magazine: Looking back at all the years you’ve spent in various capacities at the Department of Science and Technology and its precursor at the National Science and Technology Authority, what would you cite as your most significant accomplishments?

Secretary de la Peña: Lahat naman ng accomplishments sa isang organization is really [the result of] team work. But ang pwedeng sabihin na naging contribution mo is kung ikaw ang nag-lead ng isang project and saw it through.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 8
Inspecting the DoST-supported Aquaculture Research Projects near Guimaras.

So first, ‘yung ibinigay sa akin na trust ni Secretary Ceferino Follosco and his subsequent secretaries that time to oversee the technology interventions to increase productivity in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), ‘yun ang pwede kong masabing malaki ang naitulong ko.

Ang isang malaking balakid ay napakahirap mangutang ang mga SMEs para pangpuhunan kaya ang naisipan namin itaguyod ‘yung Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program which is really a package ng mga assistance where the major component is enabling the SMEs to procure hardware and software that they need. I was asked to design it in 2002 and implemented it in 2003. The program is still ongoing until now and it’s really helping our enterprises. Since then, we have provided assistance worth almost P5 billion for close to 7,000 small companies, and it has created around 170,000 jobs.

Also, ‘yung pag-se-setup ng mga technology business incubators na noong araw ay never heard of — ’yun ay in-assign din sa akin ni Secretary Follosco. That time I was in DoST formulating the program and all of a sudden, pinabalik na ako sa UP tapos ang UP naman ang nag-implement so I went from program planner and to implementer on the other side.

DoST Secretary Fortunato ‘Boy’ de la Peña: Bringing Science and Technology closer to the People 9
At the awarding of educational assistance to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) college students whose schooling was affected by the Marawi Siege.

Noong time ni DoST Secretary Estrella Alabastro under former President Arroyo, it was the first time we had a long-term plan for Science and Technology. Actually that [plan] was [envisioned] until 2020—an 18-year plan from 2000 to 2020. I didn’t realize that when it ends, it will be in my hands because that’s already next year.

I was also assigned by DoST to represent the department in the e-government fund. President Arroyo set up a big amount that would finance the e-government projects. Her only condition was we can only finance inter-agency projects.

I was assigned as chair for e-government and at that time naman, shared ang chairmanship ng lahat ng committees, so I shared the chairmanship with somebody from the private sector, and so we were able to accomplish quite a number of things, which includes [setting up] the e-libraries. We pushed for that together with the National Library, UP, DoST, Commission on Higher Education of the Philippines (CHED) and Department of Agriculture (DA). Hanggang ngayon umaandar pa siya at iyan ang dahilan kung bakit nagkaroon ng digitization sa National Library and subscription to electronic journals.

How did you come up with your motto, “Science for the People?”

I was president of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science before. It’s a private association that seeks to promote Science and Technology in the country. Naging president ako for almost six or seven years and ang aming vision is to use Science and Technology for the benefit of the people.

So naka-imprint iyon sa utak ko. Sabi ko, hindi naman siguro masama gamitin because I consulted [the organization if I can use it] dahil ‘yun talaga ang aking gusto for Science and Technology.

Science and Technology Information Institute Director Richard Burgos told me, ‘Sir, bagay sa inyo ang Science for the People kasi ang initial niyan, SFTP. ‘Yan din ang initial niyo, Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña. Hindi naman alam ng tao iyon pero internally, iyon ang sumagi sa isip niya, but more importantly, ‘yun ang guiding principle ko in all that I’ve done before and all that I’m doing in this capacity.

You said that since graduating from college in 1969, the country has made headway in the field of Science and Technology. How then would you appraise the Philippines’ standing in this area compared to our neighboring countries?

Malaki na ang improvement natin. Dito na lang sa aming mga Research and Development Institutes, although maybe up to two years ago, hindi talaga nakapag-upgrade masyado. Pero more recently, we were able to implement upgrading programs in the laboratories while adding new facilities.

I can enumerate for example, sa Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, ‘yung matagal na nilang pangarap na makapag-produce ng Technetium for importing ay pwede na nilang gawin. ‘Yung pag-e-expand ng radiation facilities, although hindi pa nangyayari, ay nai-arrange na namin na private sector na ang mag-i-invest. Pati ang National Development Corporation, pumayag na sila ang mag-se-set up dito sa additional capacity sa Luzon. Sa Mindanao naman, private sector din kasi kulang na kulang ang radiation facilities.

Then for example, for the Advanced Science and Technology Institute, sila ang nangnguna sa Space Development. Kasi wala pang Philippine Space Agency. Ngayon pa lang kung sakali. So ang daming nai-set-up na facilities sa Advanced Science and Technology Institute. Unang-una, ‘yung mga microsatellites na Diwata-1 and -2, and Maya-1, Filipinos ang nag-assemble. Noong una, mas malaki pa ang participation ng mga Japanese, sa pangalawa maliit na. Ngayon, kung ano man ang gagawin natin, siguro all-Filipino effort na ito. And we are preparing ourselves na dito na ma-assemble, hindi na sa Japan.

And then the Ground Receiving Station (GRS) facility like the Philippine Earth Data Resource Observation Center (PEDRO), sa Advanced Science and Technology Institute unang ginawa. Last November 30, we had a soft launching of the Davao Ground receiving station near the airport and we will have another one in Iloilo.

In the area of genomics, there is the Philippine Genome Center. While it has really been a collaboration with UP, DoST and CHED, malaki ang role ng DoST sa pag-put up noon.

In Bicutan, the Industrial Technology Development Institute, at least apat ang bago nilang facilities in addition to the upgrading of the previous ones. They have additional facilities for what they call green packaging for simulation para halimbawa ‘yung pag-byahe ng goods ma-si-simulate mo na sa laboratory.

Sa Food and Nutrition Research Institute, may mga bagong facilities din, but we are preparing for relocating them. Like some agencies, we plan to relocate them to Clark, Pampanga. May directive kasi si President Rodrigo Duterte na mag-decongest. So I can say we can compete with other countries in some areas especially when it comes to Food and Nutrition and Genomics.

What is the DoST prioritizing as we speak today?

Actually in Research and Development, marami ang nakapilang proposals sa department. Nakakatulong sila sa pag-create ng new knowledge lalo na sa mga academics. Pero since ang aking motto is “Science for the People,” I always look at kung ano ba ang maitutulong nito sa mga tao. Kasi kung minsan, ang output is new knowledge pero sino ang nakikinabang? Kadalasan nagagamit siya by other researchers, for citations and publications. But, karamihan doon, mga taga-abroad din.

So sabi ko, we should have more of the applied type of Research and Development para makita kung ano ang maitutulong sa tao. And when I say maitutulong, pwede ang mag-a-adopt ay other line agencies ng government na nangangailangan din ng technologies and products or businesses na pwedeng maka-pick-up ng new product opportunities out of the research we are doing — even the local government units.

Recently, may mga magagandang developments na sana magpatuloy. For example, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) ay nagpondo na ng Research and Development sa DoST for earthquake monitoring instruments. The Department of Energy, kahit small scale pa lang, nakipag-partner na sa isang research on electronic vehicles. So things like that are what we’re working on.

What are your hopes for the future of the country in terms of Science and Technology?

Sa department, gusto kong mag-lead tayo in many additional areas and ma-recognize naman ang contributions ng department. Although we say that it’s OK to work silently, but siyempre, gusto din namin maging aware ang mga tao sa mga opportunities that are available because of the work that we do.

Also, we went up 19 steps in the recent Global Innovation Index. And our rank of 73 out of 126 is actually [within] the 55th percentile if you want to talk numbers. So noon ko pa sinabi na gusto ko makaabot naman tayo by the end of 2022 in the 33rd percentile. Kaya noong nag jump sa 54, sabi namin parang may pag-asa. Kasi ang 33rd percentile, is only around a ranking of 43. Sabi ko kaya iyon kasi nag-jump na tayo from 73 to 54. I think we can jump to 43 within the next three years.

Sa other rankings, ganoon din ang aking pangarap. Unrealistic naman kasi na gusto mo agad mapunta tayo sa Top 10. So at least within the period we are serving, makarating man lang tayo sa top one-third.

And speaking of optimism, I am a person who has never lost optimism as far as our country is concerned. I must confess that all my siblings went abroad. I am the only one left here. My wife also went abroad [before] but I told her [then], “You better come home if you want to marry me.” So she came home. But all her siblings are also working and living abroad.

Pero ako, naniniwala ako na there is always hope. Kaya noong nag-alisan ang mga ka-batch ko in 1969 pa, sabi ko maiiwan ako dito to do the best I can in our field for country. Fifty years later, parang malayo pa din tayo but I have not lost hope. Kasi alam mo kung ang thinking ng mga Pilipino ay parating talo tayo agad, paano tayo mananalo? Isa lang ang bansa natin kaya mahalin natin ito.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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