Angara urges creation of independent biotechnology center
Manila (26 November) -- Sen. Edgardo Angara is pushing for the establishment of an independent biotechnology center of excellence and the promotion of biotechnology-based industries nationwide.
In a keynote speech at the 4th National Biotechnology Week celebration at the Institute of Small-Scale Industries (ISSI) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City on Monday, Angara said these recommendations would be embodied in a legislative proposal to be submitted to Congress.
He noted that the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) of 1997 already provided annual budgetary allocations for biotechnology research and development (R&D), with 40 percent of the 10 percent allocation for R&D earmarked for biotechnology.
Angara, a former secretary of agriculture, stressed the biotechnology center will be funded by government and concentrate on "directed and impact-oriented R&D."
To entice the private sector in supporting the biotechnology center, Angara said private investments in the center would be tax deductible. Eventually, the center will be turned over to the private sector.
Scientists chosen on the basis of merit will staff the center, he added.
Angara explained that in luring the best minds to join the center, the legislative proposal calls for offering attractive salaries.
The center, he stressed, will have a training and manpower development program component geared to make the staff "keep up with abrupt developments in biotechnology."
Angara noted that government itself will have to take the lead in encouraging biotechnology research, revealing that only 0.15 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001 was spent on R&D, which is lower than the 0.2 percent spent in 1992.
"This is a great setback especially when compared with R&D spending in other Asian countries. Singapore devoted 2.1 percent of its GDP in 2006 and aims to increase it to 3 percent by 2010. South Korea invested $4.4 billion from 2000-2007 for bio-industry development," he stressed.
While the Philippines was the first Asian country to commercialize agricultural biotechnology products through Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn in 2002 and implement a functional biosafety regulatory system considered as a model, Angara said "there are still biotech products in the market."
The senator argued that to make the biotech sector truly vibrant, efforts must be undertaken to reduce brain drain and increase R&D spending.
Many Filipino scientists have left to work in foreign laboratories owing to the "lack of available positions, low salaries and mismatch of training with sectoral needs."
Angara also stressed that need for a streamlined bureaucracy to intensify R&D, noting "government institutions are also unable to absorb efficiently the research funds because they are highly bureaucratic. Specifically, inefficiency and expensiveness of purchasing systems hinder utmost absorption of released money in a reasonable period of time."
Turning to the need to promote biotech-based industries, Angara said government should make it a policy to "grant incentives to companies that invest in the commercial production of biotechnologies, grant incentives to multinational companies that set up R&D centers in the Philippines and promote biotech R&D in private companies." (biolife news service/PIA 12) [top]