From ‘suka and toyo’ to space technology, technopreneurship: How PH’s sci-tech program evolved

Published June 17, 2021, 11:54 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

As the nation marked the 63rd anniversary celebration of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the agency’s chief, Secretary Fortunato “Boy” T. de la Peña recalled how they were chided for their suka-and-toyo (vinegar and soy sauce) science and technology (S&T) promotions in the 1980s.

Special online chat called “Coffee Chat with Sec Boy” (Photo from DOST)

“I remember, they were sort of chiding us by saying that S&T is suka and toyo (vinegar and soy sauce) because we were promoting, at that time, because people needed that, at a time we were processing their agricultural products,” he said during a light conversation in a special online chat called “Coffee Chat with Sec Boy” on Tuesday, June 15.

He enthused that the agency he has been serving for 40 years has already achieved many accomplishments through the years, including its space technology program, and it is no longer just for suka or toyo.

“In the 80’s, this was the time that I joined DOST, and saw the transition from the NSDB (National Science Development Board) and became the National Science and Technology Authority, which has already administrative supervision over several institutes,” the DOST chief said.

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

“That was the time that we started contract research and adopted the ‘demand-pull’ strategy for R&D,” said de la Peña who assumed his post as DOST chief in 2016.

Under such research strategy, research and development (R&D) institutes develop technologies based on what the needs of the sector they serve.

“This was the time when products that are not really high-tech(nology) but are useful to the people,” de la Peña said.

Human resource development

De la Peña noted that the agency’s two decades were spent on strengthening their Human Resource Development program.

It was in 1958 when the National Science Development Board was created by Congress, marking the start of collaborative research on cloud seeding with the Department of National Defense (DND).

Dr. Frank Co Tui pioneered the Board.

It was in the same year when the Commission on Volcanology, which was replaced by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), began its geothermal energy research.

At that time, the three agencies—the Forest Product Research Institute that was part of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC) and the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), which were under the umbrella of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), were added to the DOST’s grip.

R&D funding

In the same online chat, DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina L. Guevara noted that from 2011 to 2016, the agency’s R&D funding increased from P1 billion to P7 billion.

She cited under the Niche Centers in the Regions (NICER) for R&D, sub-program of the Science for Change Program (S4CP), 35 R&D Centers have been so far established across the 17 regions in the country.

She said the centers enable higher education institutions (HEIs) to develop their own R&D initiatives to spur developments in the regions through the technologies developed under the program.

Guevara attributed the country’s improved ranking in 2020 Global Innovation Index to the implementation of the S4CP.

In 2020, the Philippines landed the 50th spot among the 131 economies from rank 100th in 2014.

“We are considered as efficient innovators,” Guevara said. “Kasi ang input natin ay hindi gaano kalakihan pero grabe naman ang output natin (Because our input is not very big but our output has impact),” she said.

PH’s space program

The DOST likewise took pride in its space technology development program, which started only in 2014.

Filipino scientists and engineers managed to develop and deploy into space the Philippines’ first microsatellites Diwata-1 in 2016 and Diwata-2 in 2018.

Diwata-1 from space. (Photo from JAXA-NASA/DOST-ASTI)

With the success of the first two micro satellites, DOST once again sent into outer space the first nanosatellites called Maya 1 in June 2018 and Maya 2 in February 2021, the DOST said.

“Ang Advanced Science and Technology Institute ay pumasok sa pagmomonitor ng environment, di ba ang galing ng mga Filipino? kung dati-rati ang diwata ay makikita sa kagubatan lamang, ngayon nasa kalawakan na at ang maya ay lumilipad lamang sa lupa, ngayon umabot doon sa kalawakan, may Maya satellite (The Advanced Science and Technology Institute has ventured into environmental surveillance, that is 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] and a sparrow (Maya bird) that fly low from the ground but now it hovers over space as the Maya satellite),” DOST Undersecretary Renato U. Solidum Jr. said in the same event.

Maya-1 (Photo from DOST-ASTI)

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Efficient, real-time monitoring of natural disasters

Solidum, also Phivolcs’ officer in charge (OIC), said Phivolcs and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), have efficiently monitored various natural disasters through the use of knowledge products and weather and geohazards forecasting technologies. “Today, Phivolcs can now remotely monitor volcanoes; we have near real-time volcano monitoring stations, where we can monitor all the volcanoes in our facility in Quezon City.”


He noted that the number of earthquake monitoring stations has increased to 109 from just 10 sometime in the 1980’s.

Solidum also cited the setting up of 29 sea level monitoring stations for tsunami monitoring, recalling that in earlier years, PAGASA, the State Weather Forecasting Bureau, 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.”

SETUP:Empowerment of MSMEs

DOST Undersecretary for Regional Operations Sancho A. Mabborang, who also joined the online chat, has reported the feat of DOST’s Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) in empowering micro, small and medium enterprises to be more productive and competitive.

Since 2002 when the program was launched, around 90,000 small to medium enterprises have been assisted and additional 290,000 jobs have been generated mostly in the countryside.

SETUP. Workers at WTL Enterprises sorting newly harvested white shrimps. They are also residents in thecommunity of Mansalay.In a bid to pave the way for the innovative aquaculture industry. (Photo from DOST-Mimaropa)

He likewise cited the importance of the Food Innovation Centers in developing the country’s food sector. The centers are mostly found inside the campuses of state universities and colleges in the regions, and conduct collaborative R&D activities and other support services.

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, Mabborang said.

“As the science department marks 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.”