In his weekly late night shows, Pres. Duterte did not only dish out incomprehensible statements and lies, but also peddled unscientific ideas about the Covid-19 “veerus” and the pandemic — from pouring kerosene to sanitize masks, soaking hands in gasoline to disinfect, and claiming vaccines come from horses. At one point, he even offered bounty money to those who can develop vaccine. Instantly.
However, the seeming hope Pres. Duterte placed on the vaccine when the pandemic started only aimed to placate the people who are anxious due to lack of mass testing, lack of personal protective equipment for frontliners, and the overburdened health care system.
Local scientific research to combat Covid-19 played second fiddle. There are efforts from the scientific community to respond to the pandemic using local resources and available technology but it floundered from the dearth of government support. The University of the Philippines developed a test kit but it was questioned and never used. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) studied virgin coconut oil, and herbal plants tawa tawa and lagundi as possible antivirus aid, but, lacking support, it delivered inconclusive results.
Like the budget of health department, the DOST budget has been shrinking through the years. Despite the need for scientific research, the DOST lamentably did not merit to be at the top 10 priorities of the Duterte regime in the 2021 budget. It got only PhP 20.524 billion compared, or just a tenth that of the defense department’s Php 205.5 billion.
The country’s science and technology has long been pushed down as a mere adjunct in an economy that only serves as exporter of raw materials and semi-manufactures and a market for capital goods and consumer products of capitalist countries such as the US. National scientific research and development (R&D) remains in the back burner and Filipino scientists’ inventions, finding no support, are instead being developed, patented, and marketed by foreign corporations.
Without a clear path to develop its own industries, such as pharmaceutical, even the country’s immediate needs to respond to the pandemic— from test kits to personnel protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies, medicine, and at some point even masks—depended on importation; and, to wait in line when supplies could be made available for the country.
Obviously, the development of S&T has no place in Duterte’s “Build Build Build” centerpiece program and its current move to open up the country’s remaining resources to foreign ownership through Charter Change. A puppet, corrupt, tyrannical, fascist regime such as Duterte’s is allergic of developing local science and technology because it doesn’t serve their self-interest.
Science and technology (S&T) is a key to economic prosperity and national development, if only the path to national industrialization is pursued. With the country’s rich natural resources—land, marine, water, mineral ores, flora and fauna, as well as human resource—S&T could flourish. Yet, the semifeudal character of the Philippine economy continues to hinder the advance of science and technology.
The science community has shown with its output during the pandemic that it can do more for the benefit of the Filipino people, if given adequate support and a clear direction—rural development and in building the country’s own industries—that augurs self-reliance and sustainability. Only through people’s revolutionary struggle can S&T be liberated and prosper to serve the masses. ###