MANILA -- Even if the Balik Scientist Act was already signed into a law in June 2018, Filipino researchers and Balik Scientists (returning scientists) still experience challenges.

In separate interviews with the Philippine News Agency (PNA), two Balik Scientists shared that among these challenges include low salary, work overload, less exposure to world-class research and low publication rates.

Rodrigo Jamisola, Jr., associate professor of the Botswana University of Science and Technology, and Josefino Comiso, scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, both availed of the Balik Scientist short-term program, which enables them to do their engagement here for 30 to 90 days.

"The 'good' monetary benefits (of Balik Scientist law) only apply to short-term program. When you apply for long term, or to be permanently stationed here, those benefits disappear. I am talking about salary and not about (research) funding opportunities because funding is heavily invested by government at the moment," said Jamisola.

He added that he wishes the government to give competitive salaries to Balik Scientists, and if possible, extend the good salary rate to all Filipino scientists here.

Currently, incentives under the short-term program include PHP3 million accident/travel insurance; reimbursement of excess baggage up to 25 kg; one round trip air fare (between country of origin to the Philippines); USD200 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); and PHP500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement.

For the long-term program wherein Balik Scientists could opt to stay here for at least two or three years, the benefits are: 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; and PHP500,000 one-time incentive upon completion of engagement.

With regard to workload, Jamisola said researchers abroad are not as loaded as those who are here. "Most universities or companies abroad doing research are most likely serious in trying to get research outputs, so the researchers are not as loaded as those who are here back home.

For Comiso, the publication rate for scientists in the Philippines are generally low compared with neighboring countries. He said there are many research results that are being presented in conferences, but the way to facilitate that presentations into papers "is not there yet".

Comiso also commented that the "bureaucratic impediments" hinder researchers to acquire the tools and equipment they need on time. "This makes it sometimes impossible to get a proposed research program to be completed on time," he lamented.

Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato dela Pena told the PNA on Thursday he will study these comments.

Earlier, he noted an increasing trend among Balik Scientists, saying that if this continues, it might surpass the target for this year.

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," dela Pena said, hoping more scientists would be encouraged to go back to the Philippines.

Acknowledging Balik Scientist law

Both Jamisola and Comiso acknowledged the Balik Scientist law, and said they have been looking for ways to help the country.

"(I came back) mainly because of my love for the country and the desire to give back," said Comiso, adding that he feels he could share the expertise he got while working for NASA.

The Balik Scientist Act, he said, was a sign that the government is serious in promoting science.

"There is on-going coordination among overseas Filipino scientists abroad to avail of BSP (Balik Scientist Program). The crucial part is that,DOST has to maintain a good support for Balik Scientists to encourage many more Balik Scientists in the future," Jamisola said.

He added that many Filipino scientists abroad eagerly waited for the Act to become a law.

"I hope that the government would also take care of the scientists here, as this would help get the country's science and technology to move in the right speed and direction," Jamisola said. (PNA)