Combatting corruption/Science for development
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2019 - 12:00am

The University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA) honored last week its outstanding alumni in various fields. The Most Distinguished Alumnus is Ambassador Edgardo B. Espiritu, ROTC ’56, and LLB’58.  The UPAA Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Awardee is Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato T. Dela Peña BSChE’69, MS’76, as well as  Dr. Amelia Mangay-Maglacas, GM’50;  former Usec Mabini F. Pablo, BAPA’69, MEP’73, and Dr.  Martesio C. Perez, MD’58.

Ambassador Espiritu  delivered a message entitled “Combatting Corruption,” and Secretary Dela Peña, on “A Call to Service: Science for the People,” at the UP Alumni Council meeting.

Espiritu is described as “a towering figure in the world of Philippine banking and business management. He served as Finance secretary,  and designated as  the country’s ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland.

Corruption, said Espiritu, is widely regarded as a “scourge of society,” increasing poverty and widening inequalities and crippling economic growth. The Philippines, though no longer among the worst countries in terms of corruption, is still considered  “a corruption-challenged country.” Internationally, it ranks no. 99 among 180 countries in 2018 under Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (or CPI). “Our ranking is higher, that is worse, than those of comparable countries in the region, for instance, Indonesia is no. 89, Malaysia no. 61, but is comparable with Thailand, which is also no. 99, as well as with Tanzania and Colombia, also both no. 99.

Espiritu said various local surveys conducted in the past (such as those by SWS) showed that about two thirds of the local population perceives that there is a high incidence of corruption in government. Previous opinion surveys showed that people perceive that as much as 50 percent of funds in public road construction are lost to corruption; and 30 percent or higher in other public service provision, such as health services and textbook provision in public schools.

During his time as Secretary of Finance, he commissioned the World Bank to undertake a study on corruption in the Philippines and provide recommendations on fighting it. The study’s recommendations, Espiritu believes, are still very relevant today. “The  basic principle is to reduce the opportunities and  motivation for corruption. The gist of the recommendations is to make corruption a “high-risk and low-reward” activity.”

The study’s recommendations call for the reduction of opportunities for corruption through policy reforms and deregulation; reforming campaign finance; increasing public oversight of government, transparency and public access to information; and  reforming government budget processes. 

The study notes that to  get elected to office in this country, one would need huge amounts of money. Candidates resort to illegal means (for instance, the  anomalous use of PDAF, and undeclared campaign contributions), to ensure that they will have the funds necessary for their election or reelection.  

Existing laws cover most aspects of corruption,  among them the Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Ombudsman Act of 1989, the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.  “It may be time to revisit and update many of these laws in order to ensure that appropriate penalties with deterrent impact on corrupt behavior are imposed.”

There is a wide perception that the Judiciary is also prone to corruption, for instance, the infamous TROs and injunctions for sale, uneven dispensing of justice to the poor and to the rich and influential, said Espiritu. 

A predictable judiciary (that is, one that consistently and efficiently adjudicates cases) is an essential element  of an anti-corruption system. Among the ways for improving governance in the Judiciary are merit-based (rather than politically influenced) recruitment and promotion of judges, prosecutors and other court personnel, adequate compensation, accountability for performance, addressing case overload problem and de-clogging dockets.  

“What can we do to help fight corruption?  Implicit in all that we have said so far is that a big part of the roots of the problem may be traced to a country’s culture and sociological foundations.”

“Corruption is a significant social and national problem. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us, as decent, responsible and caring citizens of this country to help in whatever way we can to fight this evil.”

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S&T Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña’s message showed how developments in science and technology (S&T) are “fundamentally altering the way people live, connect, communicate and transact, with profound effects on economic development.” 

As secretary of the agency, he is focused on research and development. He leads in the grassroots development of science learning, agricultural productivity, the Balik-Scientist Program, innovation, MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises), disaster risk reduction and climate change, space program, weather forecasting, and technology transfer.

 Countries such as Israel, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba and China, he said, “have rapidly developed and enjoyed  economic gains because they recognize the key role of technology and accordingly invested in S&T.”

But already the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has developed technologies addressing the development needs of the country.

For example, addressing  and possibly easing the huge traffic problem, DOST developed mass transport systems, namely the Automated Guideway Transport (AGT), the Hybrid Electric Road Train and  (HERT) and Hybrid Electric Train (HET), the latter being operated by the Philippine National  Railways in the Alabang-Binan Road. All parts of the trains are made by Filipinos and are locally available.

DOST has produced a system of determining if two shabu samples came from the same batch of chemical processing. This can help PDEA go to the source of the shabu, whether local or international.

Then its Axis Knee system is specially designed for the knee-suffering Asian population. To date, more than 200 Filipino doctors have been trained to do the procedure and more than 500 knees have been replaced locally.

The dengue epidemic may ease up with the application of the DOST-developed BIOTEK-M which makes accurate detection of dengue infection within an hour. This is part of the “Lab-in-a-Mug Project” of UP Manila. This local innovation has high sensitivity, high specificity robust and is less expensive than current diagnostic tests. It won a gold award in the International Invention exhibition in Geneva.

DOST has ventured into space technology with the launch of Diwata-1, Maya-1 and Diwata-2. All Filipino-made, these satellites have been launched  from the International Space Station and have been supplying data that is useful in disaster risk management, communication, agricultural monitoring and planning.

Through its Science Education Institute, DOST is currently serving 36,500 scholars in their secondary BS, MS and PhD studies. The scholars are present in 98 percent of municipalities in the country, including the war-torn Marawi, “where we committed  in rehabilitating the community by providing opportunities for children to continue their tertiary studies in STEM and enable them to achieve a brighter future.  The Philippine Science High School system is present in 16 regions, producing highly competent students who excel in the national and international scene, making big impacts for the country.

 Secretary de la Pena cited one PSHS Bicolana, Maria Yzabell Angel V. Palama, who invented a green aircon that does not use any harmful ozone-depleting coolants. And there is a Tacloban native, Hilar Andales, who bested 11,000 participants  in a global science competition with her science communication process. 

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