CAN science and politics mix?

Saying it’s easy to imagine movie actors, celebrities, landowners, businessmen, basketball players and even religious leaders as politicians, Prof. Leonor Briones thinks the idea is quite farfetched as far as scientists are concerned.

AGHAM party-list nominees Emil Javier (left) and Saeed Daof“On the other hand, why not?” she just as easily blurts out. “If boxers have every right to run for public office, why not a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding from Cornell University or a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University?”

Briones, who teaches at the U.P. National College Public Administration and Governance and is co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines, is thrilled that just when citizens like her are about to give up on politics and politicians, a new breed of candidates is entering the electoral ring — scientists.

The Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan, Inc. or AGHAM (Filipino for science) formally launched its bid for a party-list seat in Congress in the May 2007 elections with a “lugawan” at the Balay Kalinaw in U.P. Diliman last Wednesday. The event also served as a modest fund-raising activity that was attended by scientists, students, and academicians like Briones.

“We desperately need scientists in Congress,” Briones avers. “After all, Congress is the highest policy-making body in the country. Its two houses — the House of Representatives and the Senate — formulate policies which take the form of laws. The crafting of policy has to be scientific and well studied. Laws must be based on careful study, with due regard for the future and not just the selfish needs of the present.”

AGHAM is fielding three nominees led by its president, Dr. Emil Q. Javier, former U.P. president and current president of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST); Dr. Angel C. Alcala, former environment secretary and former chairman of the Commission on Higher Education CHED); and Saeed Daof, an agribusiness graduate of U.P. Los Baños.

(The Department of Environment and Natural Resources was far from sterling under Alcala though, despite his glowing credentials as an environmental advocate. The PCIJ reported in 1995 how he surrounded himself with a slew of unaccountable assistants accused of corruption officially and in the media. One was his own legal consultant who drafted numerous anomalous orders that favored logging companies.)

The group — composed of science workers, technicians and laborers, science and mathematics teachers, researchers, extension agents, engineers, inventors, health professionals, science media practitioners — advocates a science and technology-explicit national development agenda.

Javier says it’s about time that people who “should know better” be involved in the electoral process. “The country needs a more scientific approach to governance. Political decisions should be based on solid scholarship and good science.”

Javier, who also served as science minister under Marcos, believes that there should be more think-tanks in government, or “people really dedicated to study in depth the complex issues” that the country is facing. He cites Marcos’s energy program (Batas Pambansa Blg. 73) and the food program under Masagana 99 as among the “noteworthy achievements” of the think-tanks during that time.

If elected, AGHAM promises to push for science education and scholarship, bigger budget for research, development and extensions, development of science and technology infrastructure, and the full implementation of the benefits under the Magna Carta for Science and Technology Workers (RA 8439).

“Decisions and legislations must be science-based,” says Javier. “The politics, you know, that’s something else. It’s a lesson worth learning,” he adds, in reference to another group having the same name which has filed an opposition with the Commission on Elections for the use of the word agham to avoid confusion.

In a letter dated December 20, 2006, AGHAM, or Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People), claims that they are “a national organization of scientists, engineers and advocates dedicated to make science and technology serve the people through direct community service and advocacy. The group was established in 1999.”

On its website, AGHAM has pledged support for the party-list group Bayan Muna, particularly its advocacy of a Science and Technology Agenda formulated in 2004.

The matter has been elevated to the Commission en banc in an order dated February 27, 2007.

4 Responses to Gov’t needs more scientists, less politicians — AGHAM

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Ambuot Saimo

March 17th, 2007 at 2:39 am

Everything we enjoy today from the time we brush our teeth in the morning up to the time we press the Off button of our TV remote or lampshade to enjoy a good night sleep in that comfortable bed in a controlled temperature bedroom and everything in between were made possible because of science. In other words, we can live well comfortably without politicians but not without science. The irony is that in Pinas, we have an overabundance of politicians but scarce of scientists because we don’t give priority to science and development as in other developing nations and instread we give more attention to politics. As a result, the few scientists we produced leave for abroad because the government does not support them. So I think having them represented in Congress is a good idea.

And maybe as starter if elected, they should endeavor and make sure the passage of law say: “An Act Establishing a National Science and Research Institute/College of the Philippines” open on competitive basis to the top five of high school graduating class in the country as scholars. If needed, we should hire topnotch scientists from around the world as professors/mentors until we produce our own. Graduates of this school can go abroad to further their study but not be permitted to work abroad permanently until after they completed ten years of “service” in the Philippines.

As for the budget, we should slash the allotment to the Department of National Defense and give it to this school.

In India, they have the India Institute of Technology the admission of which is strictly comepetitive. Hundred thousands apply but only few are admitted yearly. Computer graduates of this school are considered the best in the world and very in demand. Many of them are now the computer corporate directors of almost every big businesses around the globe or professors of topnotch schools. You name a giant multi-national corporation or a prestigous university and chances are there is an Indian- a product of IIT.

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Bob Malit

November 18th, 2007 at 5:29 am

Point of View/Perspective of a “disinterested party” about Philippine Politics & Economy in 21st Century competitive markets of globalized Economy.

REFLECTION: When government leaders routinely seek out private-sector individuals or businesses and, in exchange for political support, bestow favors on them, the society is said to be in the grip of “crony capitalism.” The favors generally take the form of “monopoly access to certain markets, preferred access to sales of government assets, or special access to those in political power. Such actions distort the effective use of capital, natural resources, human resources, and, accordingly, lower standards of living of Filipinos.

MESSAGE OF CAPITLISM’S COMPETITIVE MARKETS IN GLOBALIZED ECONOMY: “Creative Destruction” – the scrapping of “old technologies and old ways of doing things for the new” is the only way to increase productivity and therefore the only way to raise average living standards on sustained basis.

CONSEQUENCES AND REWARDS: The processes involve will thoroughly weed out the inefficient and poorly equipped, and granting rewards to those who anticipate consumer demand and meet it with the most efficient use of labor and capital resources. Newer technologies increasingly drive this unforgiving capitalist process on a global scale. To the extent that governments like the Philippines (Filipino people) protect portions of their populations from what they perceive as harsh competitive pressures, they acheive a lower overal material standard of living for Filipinos.

SUCCESS AND FAILURE IS A MATTER OF CHOICE: Filipinos are only 7 years old into the 21st Century. Young you might say – HOLD IT!!!!!!!!!! In the fast moving globalized economy – lightning speed technology knowing no borders, distance not a factor, 7 years is like 70 years. My countrymen, NOW IS THE TIME TO CHANGE – BREAK DOWN THE OLD HABITS, CRAB MENTALITY AND FORM NEW ONES. DOING NOTHING AND WAITING OR WISHING THINGS TO HAPPEN IS A SURE WAY TO FAILURE AND POVERTY.

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jpastor

December 8th, 2007 at 1:34 pm

We have political scientist too… :)

I agree with AGHAM but I would like to urge them to allow non-PhD’s to participate and slowly nurture bright individuals to get proper degrees. Our education system is not particularly geared to have more PhD’s. We are starting to have Master’s degree holders but still a lot more people ends only with BSc. CHED should review our degree curriculums as well as check schools standard as well. There are new engineers today that do not even know how to use geometric tables.

In other countries, higher education is properly funded. There is no shortcut to this line so maybe it is just right for the government to rethink its program so that bright and talented Filipinos would further pursue higher education. Just look at the qualifications of most Filipino scientists, they took their masters or PhD’s in other countries.

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arvinortiz

December 10th, 2007 at 12:59 pm

It is the late historian Teodoro Agoncillo who said that you are not remembered by the letters that come after your name but by the works you published. There are a lot of promising scientists whose works are highly commendable and publishable.

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