MANILA -- There is an increasing trend among "Balik Scientists" (returning scientists) and, if this continues, might surpass the target for this year, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato dela Peña told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Wednesday.

Balik Scientists are science and technology experts residing abroad and who are contracted to return to the Philippines to work and use their expertise at home.

Dela Peña noted there were 14 Balik Scientists in the first two months of 2019 alone. These scientists work in the fields of health, agriculture, aquatic and marine, and energy and emerging technologies.

"If this trend will continue, we might reach a total of 70 to 80 (Balik Scientists) this year. We will exceed our target of 60," he said.

The DOST chief earlier projected at least 60 Balik Scientists per year once the Balik Scientist Program becomes a law. Balik Scientist Act was signed into law in June 2018.

In case the DOST exceeds its target, dela Peña said the agency can source additional funds "within the DOST budget". About PHP100 million was already set aside for the Balik Scientists in 2019, he added.

Dela Peña said he thinks the upward trend can be attributed to the streamlining of procedures and improvements in the benefits of Balik Scientists.

Under the law, among the benefits of Balik Scientists are the following:

* short term

- PHP3 million accident/travel insurance
- reimbursement of excess baggage up to 25 kg
- 1 round trip air fare (between country of origin to the Philippines)
- USD 200 or the prevailing UNDP rate (whichever is higher) per day
- attendance to a local conference
- membership endorsement to the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP)
- PHP500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement

* medium term

- same benefits as with the short term but with attendance to two local conferences

* long term

- PHP3 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 air fare for the scientist, his or her spouse and dependents
- one-time relocation allowance of PHP250,000
- monthly housing (maximum PHP40,000 per month)
- PHP5,000 monthly transportation allowance
- salary equivalent to at least Salary Grade 24
- attendance to three local conferences
- NRCP membership endorsement
- PHP500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement

Dela Peña clarified that all these incentives will be shouldered by the DOST, as the law did not state a separate or additional fund for the Balik Scientists.

Meanwhile, Dela Peña said he is hoping more scientists would be encourage to go back to the Philippines.

"I, the DOST Secretary, imposed upon myself to really promote the program. I personally campaign for this (program) in conventions and international scientific societies," he remarked.

The DOST chief added he hopes there would be more Balik Scientists in other areas included in the agency's harmonized agenda: artificial intelligence, space technology, electronics and communications, materials science and biotechnology. (PNA)