With new chief, DOST prepares return to conservative R&D roots

With the choice of Fortunato dela Pena as the new Department of Science and Technology (DOST) secretary under the incoming Duterte administration, the science agency is bracing for a return to its research and development (R&D) roots.

Incoming DOST secretary Fortunato dela Pena. Credit: apecdoc.org

Incoming DOST secretary Fortunato dela Pena. Credit: apecdoc.org

This is quite a departure from the strategy taken by outgoing secretary Mario Montejo, whose entrepreneurial mindset and go-getter attitude allowed the DOST to roll out ambitious initiatives such as Diwata-1 micro-satellite and Project Noah. But in pursuing that path, the agency somehow neglected its R&D mandate.

With the conservative Dela Pena now poised to take over the reins of the DOST, its high-flying days may now be over, if the interview of the new science chief with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) will serve as an indication.

“My top priorities will be on R&D to address pressing concerns on health, agriculture and the process industries,” Dela Pena, a former undersecretary for S&T services of the DOST, said.

Dela Pena cited that he will prioritize programs that will hasten development in the regions, as well as S&T policies that will push sustainable growth.

When he assumes the agency’s top post on June 30, Dela Pena said his initial top programs are expanding the reach of DOST services in the regions, particularly in the underprivileged sectors; helping the DOST scholars to be able to serve the country and utilize their services; and increasing utilization of facilities, research outputs and human resource expertise to push for growth and development.

Dela Pena emphasized that the R&D industry will flourish if there will be investors in technology-intensive businesses.

“There will be many investors in this area if the economic climate is good, if the industry-academe-government linkages are strong and effective, and if we have enough human resources in advanced S&T areas who can be tapped by the industry,” he explained.

With regard to human resource development, Dela Pena said he would like to improve access.

“There are many universities in the regions, especially the state universities and colleges (SUCs), which can be delivering institutions for S&T scholarship degree programs,” Dela Pena cited.

He continued, “A little more help from the government will help them improve their capacity, capability, quality and attractiveness so that more scholars will stay in their respective regions to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program.”

STEM program, formerly called the Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP), was piloted by the DOST in 1994. It is a science and mathematics-oriented curriculum being offered in specialized high schools and supervised by the Department of Education.

Although President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has not spoken specifically about S&T, Dela Pena said Duterte’s priority programs can be addressed by science and technology.

“He has repeatedly stated his emphasis on health, agriculture and food, education, and hastening the development in the regions,” Dela Pena said, adding that Duterte wants ordinary citizens to feel the services of the government.

”The DOST programs and projects will support his priorities,” he said.

Montejo earlier lauded Duterte for picking an insider as the next head of DOST.

“I am happy that he’s from the ranks because there will be continuity. As a nation, we should develop technology self-reliance and it can be easily achieved if someone from the ranks will lead,” Montejo said.

The outgoing DOST chief reiterated the need to sustain existing efforts such as the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SET-UP), launched during the Arroyo administration and expanded by the Aquino government.

“We have many programs that should not be stopped. These are multi-billion peso programs, which are bearing fruits,” he added.

Surprise appointment

Weeks before Dela Pena’s appointment, the science community, including himself, was clueless about who would be the next DOST secretary.

Dela Pena said that through a Davao-based colleague, he was asked to submit his curriculum vitae (CV) on May 26.After reflecting on it, he submitted the document on May 27.

“My philosophy is, when one is asked to serve, he/she should serve,” he said.

The 66-year-old BS Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of the Philippines got a call from Duterte’s office on May 30, asking him to fly to Davao on May 31, the day he was told he will be assigned at DOST and was introduced at the press conference as one of the new Cabinet members.

“It was a surprise for me. Many people were also surprised,” he admitted. Dela Pena has retired from the DOST as undersecretary two years ago but continued working as professorial lecturer at the University of the Philippines.

On accepting the post, Dela Pena said he did not want to blame himself later that he was asked to serve yet he refused. “The thing is to do my job best given the many limitations and constraints. I (will) move out from my retirement comfort zone to active duty again, which will entail sacrifices,” he stressed.

Aside from being a former DOST undersecretary, De La Pena also headed the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) as its president from 2002 to 2007.

From 2011 to present, he is the president of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST). – with reports from PNA

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