By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo

THE WESTERN Visayas Region has the potential to become a hub for the science and technology sector due to the strong research and development performance of its state universities and colleges (SUCs), according to Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Secretary Fortunato T. dela Peña.

“If you talk of about Western Visayas, it’s more agriculture, fisheries, and marine science that is being done here,” Mr. Dela Peña said in a news conference last week during the ViScience 2019: Visayas Science Festival at the Iloilo Convention Center.

Among the SUCs in the region are the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT-U), and the West Visayas State University, which recently had 12 of its graduates as topnotchers in the Nursing Licensure exam.

Mr. Dela Peña said while agriculture and marine science research should remain a priority, he called on the academe and researchers in the region to explore artificial intelligence (AI) and other Fourth Industrial Revolution sectors such as space technology, autonomous vehicles, and digital health care sensors.

“In ISAT-U for example, they are into engineering and metal working and in Negros, they are also strong in engineering. University of San Agustin has also started research on pharmaceuticals that are derived from the sea,” he said, speaking in mixed English and Filipino.

He also cited a recent private sector development in Capiz where a center has been set up for artificial intelligence development.

“In Capiz… they have… a private-sector development, where they allocated a certain area which they call Spring Valley. There is already one building there where they operate a center that is devoted to artificial intelligence. If you go there, you can find 10-15 young people employed doing software development and I think they are already conducting training in artificial intelligence.”

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Iloilo Provincial Director Ermelinda P. Pollentes said the department is trying to collaborate with the Capiz Innovation Center in Pueblo de Panay.

“We are also trying to see how we can link up with the Capiz Innovation Center of Pueblo de Panay. They have already some advanced developments, in the IT (information technology) sector. We would like to link up with them (to help) start-ups,” she said.

She said the DTI wants to position Iloilo as the country’s sixth Regional Inclusive Innovation Center.

“This is in preparation for the digital transformation age. I believe Iloilo is ready for this. We have been supporting the province through our shared service facilities (SSF) and other high-level equipment that will help small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) to level up their operations,” she said.

Western Visayas, the fifth-largest economy outside of the capital, had a gross regional domestic product (GRDP) amounting to P372.87 billion in 2018. Of the total, 58.1% came from the services sector, 24.7% from industries, and 17.2% from agriculture and fisheries.

The ViScience 2019 festival showcased knowledge and technology products generated by various universities from the three Visayas regions with support from the DoST, and served as a venue for more collaboration between the various institutions.

Among the technology products that were presented were the Flood Hazard Mapping in Western Visayas initiative by UP Cebu, a Botanical Dewormer from Capiz State University, and several products from UPV: algal paste, a remotely operated automatic bottom feeder, and mussel sauce.