PIDS: Bridging the gap between knowledge and power

Romeo L. Bernardo

Posted on March 28, 2016

Outside of beauty contests and boxing, there are few lists where the Philippines takes top place. Thus, it is a source of particular pride for me to banner in this column that the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) was recognized once again as the top social policy think tank in Asia and among the top 50 in this field globally. This high recognition was given by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tank and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP).

Commenting on this recognition, PIDS President Dr. Gilbert Llanto observed: “Despite having only a handful of researchers compared to other better endowed research institutes in the region and in the Philippines, PIDS has consistently made significant contributions and influence on Philippine development policy through its active and close collaboration with government agencies, academic and research institutions, and international organizations.”

Its current board includes Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra as ex-officio Chair (succeeding now Competition Council Chairman Dr. Arsenio Balisacan), Dr. William Padolina, Atty. Rafael Perpetuo Lotilla, UP President Alfredo Pascual (incoming Trustee), and Dr. Llanto, who succeeded Dr. Josef Yap. PIDS was first recognized by TTCSP under Dr. Yap’s watch.

I congratulate President Llanto, his predecessors, and the PIDS Trustees, Fellows and staff over four decades of its distinguished life. Its establishment trace back to the vision of Dr. Gerardo Sicat, then Planning Secretary, who saw the need for a think tank to help government planners and policy makers in the executive and legislative branches of government address broad issues of development. While it is a state-funded think tank, PIDS’ fathers imbued it with some independence by giving it a corporate structure and some measure of fiscal autonomy. Moreover, under its charter, its Trustees are not appointed by the Philippine President but are self-electing with staggered terms.

PIDS Fellows are known experts in their fields, and include not just economists in different areas of specialization, but also sociologists, public health specialists, demographers, statisticians, lawyers, etc. who individually and collectively contribute to its rich body of independent evidence-based research, as well as respond to the need for quick policy briefs of officials.

In recent times, PIDS Fellows have appeared, and made their mark in various Senate and Congressional Committees that deliberated on the following: cabotage law, competition policy, taxation of incomes, sin taxes, CCT, SUC’s and scholarships, budget planning, customs and tariff modernization, a bill now awaiting the President’s signature.

It has a rich trove of literature, 1000 completed studies, on these and other areas built over the years, straddling a wide field -- macroeconomics, public finance, trade and industrial policies, health economics, foreign direct investment, housing finance, urban development, governance, agrarian reform, food security/rice policy, just rattling off items I have in the past researched on. (You can find more about PIDS and its research library in www.pids.gov.ph)

Under Dr. Llanto’s watch, it has done several impact evaluation studies on the effectiveness and impacts of key government programs and projects to ascertain whether they are achieving their intended objectives and to ensure that government resources are used wisely. It has likewise trained a large number of bureaucrats on the art and science of impact evaluation.

In the coming years, Gilbert is focusing on doing studies on easing the regulatory burden in various sectors. PIDS researchers are also looking at the supply chain of tuna, a major export industry, and other sectors in manufacturing to follow. In transport, they will be examining the regulatory burden in the land transport sector. This year’s annual public policy conference will focus on the need to build resilient systems -- economic resilience for example in the face of interconnected global risks and external shocks.

As I finish my two terms as a PIDS Trustee with pride and gratitude, I recall what James McGann said about think tanks. “Think tanks seek to bridge the gap between knowledge and power. The role of think tanks is to link the two roles, that of policy maker and academic, by conducting in depth analysis of certain issues and presenting the research in easy-to-read condensed form for policy makers to absorb.”

Globally recognized PIDS has achieved this and through its active live public policy engagements in conferences, Congress, media, even more.

Romeo L. Bernardo was Finance Undersecretary during the Cory Aquino and Ramos administrations and board director of Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis, Inc. (IDEA)