PH assures ease of doing business for biotech firms

Published November 21, 2022, 5:19 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual assured biotech companies of ease of doing business in the country and tax incentives as he pushed for more innovative industries to address food security and improve the country’s participation in global value chains.

“Biotech companies can expect ease of doing business in the Philippines,” said Pascual in a speech at the opening of the 18TH National Biotechnology Week with the theme “Responding to the Challenges, Business Opportunities in Biotechnology” at the Philippine Trade Training Center on Monday, Nov. 21.

Pascual, who is also chairman of the Board of Investments (BOI), said the 2022 Strategic Investment Priority Plan (SIPP) has listed biotech-enabled production, manufacturing, and service-type activities.

These firms may avail of tax incentives and perks under Republic Act 11534 or the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act. Biotech-enabled activities related to food security and R&D activities on modern biotech or its commercialization are considered Tier II and Tier III activities, enabling these projects to enjoy a better set of incentives such as an income tax holiday of at least 5 years.

“You can rely on us in creating an enabling environment for these innovation-driven activities to thrive and become globally competitive,” said Pascual.

According to Pascual, the biotech industry will allow the Philippines to create, if not strengthen, the country’s links in global value chains.

“In our common goal to build and grow globally competitive and innovative Philippine industries, biotech industry development is a common aspiration,” he said noting that through biotech, the country can realize cross-cutting industry transformation and modernization in, among others, the fields of agriculture, food manufacturing, energy, medicine, pharmaceutical, biomaterials, and bioengineering.

Biotech can even help solve the country’s food security issues affected by increased population and climate crisis-affected agriculture, he said.

The ongoing research between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Bioseed Research Philippines Inc. seeks to bolster yields of rice, the country’s staple food. The IRRI research project aims to develop rice varieties that can better cope with floods, droughts, and extreme climate phenomena.

Aside from creating novel diagnostics, vaccines, and combatting debilitating and rare diseases, biotechnology breakthroughs can reduce the country’s environmental footprint; feed the hungry; use less and cleaner energy; and make industrial manufacturing processes safer, cleaner, and more efficient.

“That’s why we at DTI regard modern biotechnology as a vital tool to achieve the primary agenda of this government—economic recovery and transformation,” he said.

“Effectively harnessing biotech will increase our agricultural productivity, allow us to achieve food security, and modernize our industry and services sectors.”

Biotech even cuts across the DTI priority industry clusters from Industrial, Manufacturing and Transport (IMT), to Health and Life Sciences (HLS), to Modern Basic Needs and Resilient Economy.

The Philippines has already successfully adopted biotech in 2003 when it became the first Asian country to plant a biotech crop, the Bt corn. Recently, the Philippines earned the badge of regional biotechnology leader for the passage in 2021 of Golden Rice for commercial propagation and Bt eggplant for direct use.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Global Agriculture Information Network in its Agricultural Biotechnology Annual Report released October last year commended the Philippines for moving forward on a regulatory framework for genetically enhanced animals and products of innovative biotechnologies.

Aside from enhancing crop production and performance, shortening crop varietal development, and improving livestock production, biotech also produces bio-fertilizers and biofuels from agricultural waste, a climate-change adaptation measure.

Pascual even cited another modern biotech breakthrough the establishment last July of InterVenn, a Filipino-founded, San Francisco-based biotech firm. InterVenn has made significant strides in early cancer detection through the help of brilliant and dedicated Filipino engineers who have helped build and maintain the front end, back end, and cloud infrastructure of the next-generation liquid biopsy. The company’s advanced AI platform was able to help its global groups of researches and scientists significantly reduce the time it takes to analyze samples from months to mere seconds. Aside from its impact on health, the biotech company also affects jobs as it employs 150 Filipinos, half of whom are software developers.

Meantime, Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development has several projects in the pipeline for modern biotechnology application in the Philippines, particularly for the agriculture sector.

These projects include the Varietal Development of Saba/Cardaba, which among others delays banana ripening for longer shelf life. The Sago Bio-Tech Program, the Fuel Ligno Project, the Physico-chemical and Microbiological Study of Virgin Coconut Oil, and other projects will hopefully translate to establishment of local biotech firms.

“Down the line, it will create more jobs, increase local production and consumption, as well as yields for the export market,” he said.