Balik Scientist Program: enticing Filipino scientists to come home

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By Patricia B. Mirasol

The COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has highlighted the importance of a robust scientific community.

Some of this year’s newly elected academicians and corresponding members of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) are Balik Scientists, a program open to Filipino experts in science and technology who are willing to come back home and share their expertise for the country’s development.

“I have [relatives] who are also scientists. The problem is they are too young and they still want to be developed more before coming back to the Philippines. The Balik Scientist program is already very attractive for me. If you really want to serve, you can do a lot of things. The fee being given is more than enough,” said Dr. Annabelle Villalobos.

According to the Philippine News Agency, incentives include a one-time payment of P500,000.

The Balik Scientist program is open to all science and technology experts who are Filipinos or foreigners of Filipino descent, with graduate/advanced degrees, are internationally recognized experts in DOST’s priority sectors, and are willing to come back and serve either short-term or long-term. The goal is for them to share their expertise in order to accelerate the scientific, agro-industrial, and economic development of the country.

“I went back to Cabuyao to give back and help make more affordable knee implants for local patients,” said Dr. Ramon Gustilo, who went on to describe the attractiveness of a more enabling environment. “There are rich Filipinos in the US that want to come back, but (there has to be) incentives like tax incentives. There are hardly any.”

In an interview with Asian Scientist, Dr. Jaime Montoya of the DOST-PCHRD (Philippine Council for Health Research and Development) mentioned another challenge: applications being declined because the scientist’s family could not be accommodated for short-term engagements. “The program is still evolving … But when you become a Balik Scientist, more than the incentives and the research environment in the Philippines, it is the love for your country that will push you to come back to the Philippines,” said Mr. Montoya.

THE NUMBERS

As of June 30, 2019, 526 Balik Scientists were encouraged to return to the Philippines to share their expertise. These 526 Balik Scientists were able to participate in 659 engagements servicing the requirements of the academe, public/government agencies, and the industry.

For the period 2007–2019, 238 Balik Scientists from 5 continents were convinced to return to the Philippines to deliver 352 engagements benefiting 115 Host Institutions nationwide.

The Balik Scientist Program is spearheaded by the Department of Science and Technology through the DOST-Councils PCAARRD (Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development), PCHRD (Philippine Council for Health Research and Development), and PCIEERD (Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development).

BALIK SCIENTIST INCENTIVES

According to a 2019 article by the Philippine News Agency, incentives under the short-term program of Balik Scientist include:

• P500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement
• P3 million accident/travel insurance
• reimbursement of excess baggage up to 25 kg
• one round trip airfare between country of origin and the Philippines
• $200 or the prevailing United Nations Development Programme rate (whichever is higher) per day
• attendance to a local conference
• membership endorsement to the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP)

For the long-term program, wherein Balik Scientists could opt to stay in the Philippines for at least two years, the benefits are:

• P500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement.
• P3 million accident/travel insurance
• reimbursement of excess baggage up to 25 kg
• reimbursement of excess baggage of his or her spouse and dependents
• round trip airfare for the scientist, his or her spouse and dependents
• one-time relocation allowance of P250,000
• monthly housing (maximum P40,000 per month)
• P5,000 monthly transportation allowance; salary equivalent to at least Salary Grade 24
• attendance to three local conferences
• NRCP membership endorsement





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