S&T’s rags-to-riches story: From ‘suka and toyo’ to space tech and technopreneurship

DOST officials, led by Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña (second from right), are in a “Coffee Chat” style news conference as the Department of Science and Technology celebrates its 63rd anniversary. They discussed the early years of DOST from its first foray into collaborative research on cloud seeding to the country’s leap in the latest Global Innovation Index and space satellite technology. Also, in photo (from left) are DOST Undersecretaries Dr. Renato U. Solidum Jr., Engr. Sancho A. Mabborang, Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara and DOST-Science and Technology Information Institute Director Richard P. Burgos. In front of them are the various products produced by DOST agencies and SMEs under SETUP.

“We were chided as S&T, ‘suka and toyo’ [vinegar and soy sauce],” was how the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) was referred to during its earlier years, according to Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña.

The pun was shared by the Science chief during a light conversation in a special online chat called “Coffee Chat with Sec Boy” commemorating the 63rd anniversary celebration of the DOST on June 15.

“Sec Boy,” as de la Peña is being fondly called by DOST employees and and his close associates, elaborated that history would tell that the DOST is no longer just for suka or toyo. The Science Department has soared high with its many accomplishments.

He relayed how the two decades of DOST were devoted on the Human Resource Development program.

In 1958, when Congress established the National Science Development Board (NSDB) pioneered by Dr. Frank Co Tui, was marked with the start of collaborative research that was done in Sta. Barbara with the Department of National Defense on cloud seeding.

That year, the country started its geothermal energy research by the Commission on Volcanology, the predecessor of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

It was also during that time that other attached agencies were added to DOST, such as the Forest Product Research Institute that was originally part of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and the Metals Industry Research and Development Center and the Philippine Textile Research Institute, which were part of the Department of Trade and Industry.

“In the 1980s… I joined the DOST, and saw the transition from the NSDB [that] became the National Science and Technology Authority, which has already administrative supervision over several institutes,” said de la Peña, who has been serving the agency for 40 years already.

That decade, two more sectoral research councils on industry and energy, and health were created. Prior to that, the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research was established in 1978.

“That was the time that we started contract research and adopted the ‘demand-pull’ strategy for R&D,” de la Peña explained. It was a research strategy where R&D institutes develop technologies based on what the sector it serves needed.

“This was the time when products that are not really high-tech but were useful to the people,” he said.

“I remember, they were sort of chiding us by saying that S&T is suka and toyo because we were promoting [and processing] at that time [what the] people needed.”

Fast-forward to the present, DOST is behind most of the big-ticket R&D activities in the country.

Science for Change and space programs

According to Undersecretary Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, for Research and Development, “from 2011 to 2016, [the] R&D funding [of] DOST increased from P1 billion to P7 billion.”

She disclosed that since the implementation of the Science for Change Program, the country has established 35 Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D, which enables higher education institutions to develop their own R&D initiatives to spur developments in the regions through the technologies developed under the program.

Because of this thrust, the country’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index improved in 2020 to 50th among the 131 economies from rank 100th in 2014.

“We are considered as efficient innovators,” declared Guevara. “Kasi ang input natin ay hindi gaano kalakihan pero grabe naman ang output natin [Because our input was not very big, but our output was huge].”

The country also committed in space science R&D that enabled Filipino scientists and engineers to develop and deploy into space the Philippines’s first microsatellites Diwata-1 in 2016 and Diwata-2 in 2018.

With the success of the first two microsatellites, DOST once again sent into outer space the first nanosatellites called Maya-1 in June 2018 and Maya-2 in February.

These encouraging achievements led to the eventual birth of the Philippine Space Agency, the government agency mandated to promote and develop the country’s space technologies, capabilities, and applications. The agency is now headed by Director General Dr. Joel Marciano Jr., the former director of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) of the DOST.

Undersecretary Renato U. Solidum Jr. cleverly put the developments in the country’s space science research.

“[ASTI] has ventured into environmental surveillance. Does it not show how good the Filipinos are? Before, fairies can only be found in the forest, now fairies can now be found in space [referring to the Diwata-1 and 2 satellites; diwata is fairy or goddess in English]. And a sparrow [referring to maya bird] that fly low from the ground now hovers over space as the Maya satellite,” Solidum said partly in Filipino.

He also shared the many developments over the years as the DOST, through its institutes, the Phivolcs and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), has efficiently forecasted and monitored various natural disasters through the use of knowledge products and weather and geohazards forecasting technologies.

“Today, Phivolcs can remotely monitor volcanoes. We have near real-time volcano monitoring stations, where we can monitor all the volcanoes, in our facility in Quezon City,” revealed by the country’s premier “fault finder.”

Solidum also shared that the country now has 109 earthquake monitoring stations from just 10 in the 1980s.

Besides this, 29 sea-level monitoring stations for tsunami monitoring were established.

In earlier years, Pagasa used rain gauges to gather rain from buckets.

“But now we have 17 doppler radars that can forecast typhoons from a distance of 200 kilometers, and 13 flood-forecasting and warning centers with additional five more being constructed.

For his part, DOST Undersecretary for Regional Operations Sancho A. Mabborang highlighted the success of DOST’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program, a nationwide program that empowers micro, small and medium enterprises to be more productive and competitive.

Mabborang reported that since 2002, when the program was launched, they have already assisted 90,000 small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and generated additional 290,000 jobs mostly in the countryside.

Besides this, he bannered the Food Innovation Centers, which are mostly found inside the campuses of state universities and colleges in the regions, that conduct collaborative R&D activities and other support services that enable development in the food sector.

As a result, the centers were able to create new products and technologies that helped spur new developments for SMEs and enliven economic activity in the regions.

As the DOST marked its more than six decades of serving the people through science, technology and innovation, the thousands of men and women of science continue to pledge their full support and dedication to improving the lives of every Filipino in the future beyond the new normal.


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