By Ellson Quismorio
Rep. Karlo Nograles (first district, Davao City) is crediting President Duterte for the imminent enactment of the proposed “Balik Scientist Act,” a measure that he co-authored and strived to pass during the previous Congress.
Nograles said that as a legislator, it is sometimes frustrating to push hard for the passage of a bill only to have your hopes dashed by time constraints.
This happened to the Balik Scientist Bill during the 16th Congress, he said.
“The measure reached third and final reading during the previous Congress but it ultimately did not pass due to lack of time. Luckily for us, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte recognized its importance and allowed it to prosper this 17th Congress,” said Nograles, chairman of the House committee on appropriations.
He said the particular bill seeks to improve the state of research and development in the country by luring a Filipino scientist or one of Filipino descent to share his or her expertise in the Philippines via various incentives.
The Davao solon said the bicameral conference committee is on the cusp of consolidating House Bill (HB) 5792 and Senate Bill 1533, both of which bat for the institutionalization of the Balik Scientist Program (BSP).
The BSP is actually a decades-old but dormant program of the Philippine government. It was first established as a five-year program under Presidential Decree (PD) 819 issued on October 24, 1975.
The program was revived under Executive Order (EO) 130 issued October 25, 1993, but not much has been heard from it since.
For Nograles, the purpose of the Palace directive will only be realized if Congress turns it into a law.
“The Balik Scientist Program measure is important because it is part of the President’s legislative agenda and the common legislative agenda of the House and the Senate,” Nograles underscored.
He said the BSP will boost various sectors in the Philippines, most notably agriculture.
“Increasing farmers’ production is one of the more tantalizing long-term benefits of this proposed Act and is consistent with President Duterte’s aim of unlocking the full potential of Philippine agriculture. We’ve long held that the country is a sleeping juggernaut in this regard,” Nograles noted.
Balik Scientist incentives
The Appropriations panel had earlier approved the funding provision of HB 5792, which is the harmonized substitute measure of HB 1204 and 2900. The bills, which call for strengthening the BSP, were authored by Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Divina Grace Yu and Bohol Rep. Erico Aristotle Aumentado, respectively.
The House version of the proposed Balik Scientist Act classifies the incentives offered to returning scientists into two categories: short-term award and long-term award.
The following incentives are some of those listed for short-term award: provision of one free round-trip ticket from foreign country to the Philippines; exemption from the payment of income tax of daily allowance to be determined by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST); exemption from the licensing or permit requirement of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC); participation of grants-in-aid (GIA) research and development projects of the DOST; exemption from the payment of travel tax, which will also cover the Balik Scientist’s immediate family; and free accident and medical insurance.
For long-term award, these are some of the come-ons being offered by the bill: relocation allowance to be determined by the DOST; provision for housing, which may be arranged by predetermined host institutions; importation of personal effects and professional instruments and materials in quantities and of class suitable to the profession, rank, or position of the Balik Scientist; and grant of reasonable accident and medical insurance for the duration of the award.
The participation and service of the returning scientists shall be governed by the rules and regulations to be promulgated by the DOST, the bill said.