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Philippines to provide incentives to returning scientists, inventors, and engineers

The Philippine Government is expected to enact the ‘Balik Scientist Act’ next month, which would provide more incentives to returning Filipino experts, scientists, inventors, and engineers.

The Balik Scientist Act seeks to institutionalise the Balik Scientist Program (BSP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which encourages Filipino scientists, technologists, and experts to return to the country and share their expertise in order to promote scientific, agro-industrial, and economic development and address development gaps in the Philippines. The BSP also aims to support and strengthen the scientific and technological human resources in the Philippines.

According to the bill the Balik-Scientist Program will prioritise experts in the fields of space, technology, artificial intelligence, biomedical engineering, energy agriculture and food technology—biotechnology, information and communications technology, pharmaceutical, disaster mitigation and management, environment and natural resources, electronics, genomics, health, manufacturing, nanotechnology, cyber security and semiconductors. 

A Balik Scientist is a science and technology expert who is a Filipino citizen or a foreigner of Filipino descent, residing abroad and contracted by the Government to return and work in the Philippines along his/her field of expertise.

The Act, also known as Senate Bill 1533, was approved in the third and final reading at the Senate and House of Representatives during the Bicameral Conference on 06 March 2018 at Senate of the Philippines in Pasay City.

Under this bill, the incentives available to a scientist returning to Philippines include: tax and duty exemptions to importation of professional equipment and materials, free medical and accident insurance covering the award period, reimbursement of expenses for baggage related to scientific projects, and exemption from “renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath.”

A Balik Scientist can also participate in DOST’s Grants-in-Aid research and development. A grant may be provided to the Balik Scientist and released through the host institution for the implementation of the project in accordance with relevant government regulations and the need of the program involved.

The benefits also include special working and non-working visas, a round-trip airfare from a foreign country to the Philippines, exemption from local travel tax, and DOST-subsidised visa application.

Long-term Balik Scientist awardees can enjoy relocation benefits, such as support in securing job opportunities for the spouse of the awardee, and admission support for the children of awardees in preferred schools, relocation allowance and monthly housing or accommodation allowance, and funding for the establishment and development of a facility or laboratory. 

Under the bill a person who is a non-bachelor’s degree graduate but has extensive experience in important fields can be also considered a Balik Scientist and can apply for the program. 

Senator Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, principal author in the Senate, said that both Houses of the legislature are expecting that President Rodrigo Duterte will sign the Act into law within the next two months. 

Senator Aquino IV said, “Upon transmittal of all the documents to Malacañang which will take few weeks, then in 30 days if there is no veto message, we expect that he will sign this and it should be a law by April or May. I don’t see any reason for the President (Duterte) not to approve this law. We all know that he would like to see all greatest Filipino minds to stay in the country to contribute to economic development.”

He added, “Institutionalizing the Balik-Scientist Program of DOST is one way of showing that we recognise the importance of our scientists and engineers abroad, especially on how their knowledge, expertise, and experience could help a lot in order to address some of the pressing problems of different areas in the country, particularly in the urban part.”

“It is very crucial to strengthen the Balik-Scientist Program of DOST because we have areas that lack experts. Examples are space technology and artificial intelligence which are just starting. It is very crucial to have enough human resource in these fields to help us in conducting various research and development projects.” 

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