By Dhel Nazario
Returning Filipino experts, scientists, inventors and engineers would receive more incentives as soon as the Balik Scientist Act would be enacted into law next month.
The Act, also known as Senate Bill 1533, was approved in the third and final reading at the Senate and House of Representatives during the Bicameral Conference last Tuesday, March 6 in Pasay City.
Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, principal author in the Senate, shared that both Houses are expecting that President Rodrigo Duterte will sign the Act into law within the next two months. His Lower House counterpart is Bohol second district representative Erico Aristotle Aumentado.
“Upon transmittal of all the documents to Malacañang which will take few weeks, then in 30 days if there is no veto message, we expect that he will sign this and it should be a law by April or May. I don’t see any reason for the President (Duterte) not to approve this law. We all know that he would like to see all greatest Filipino minds to stay in the country to contribute to economic development,” said Aquino.
The Balik Scientist Act seeks to institutionalize the Balik Scientist Program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which encouraged some of our scientists to return and contribute to research that will help address development gaps in the Philippines.
Under the bill, a returning scientist can enjoy various compensations including: tax and duty exemptions to importation of professional equipment and materials, free medical and accident insurance covering the award period, reimbursement of expenses for baggage related to scientific projects, and even exemption from “renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath.”
The benefits also include special working and non-working visas, a round-trip airfare from a foreign country to the Philippines, exemption from local travel tax, and DOST-subsidized visa application.
Also, long-term Balik Scientist awardees can enjoy relocation benefits, such as support in securing job opportunities for the spouse of the awardee, admission support for the children of awardee in preferred schools, relocation allowance and monthly housing or accommodation allowance, and funding for the establishment and development of facility or laboratory.
“Institutionalizing the Balik-Scientist Program of DOST is one way of showing that we recognize the importance of our scientists and engineers abroad, especially on how their knowledge, expertise, and experience could help a lot in order to address some of the pressing problems of different areas in the country, particularly in the urban part,” Aquino added.
Sen. Aquino also shared that Sec. de la Peña has been supporting this bill for years since he was an undersecretary of DOST.
“Malaking bagay na mapalakas natin itong Balik-Scientist program kasi may mga area coverages tayo na kulang na kulang tayo ng experts. Kagaya na lang sa space technology and artificial intelligence na ngayon pa lang nag-uumpisa, mahalaga na mayroon tayong enough human resources upang tumulong sa research and development pagdating sa mga field na ito (It is very crucial to strengthen the Balik-Scientist Program of DOST because we have areas that lack experts. Examples are space technology and artificial intelligence which are just starting. It is very crucial to have enough human resource in these fields to help us in conducting various research and development projects),” said Sec. de la Peña.
The bill also states that the Balik-Scientist Program will prioritize experts in the fields of space, technology, artificial intelligence, biomedical engineering, energy agriculture and food technology—biotechnology, information and communications technology, pharmaceutical, disaster mitigation and management, environment and natural resources, electronics, genomics, health, manufacturing, nanotechnology, cyber security and semiconductors.