Senate approves ‘Balik Scientist’ bill on final reading
Senators voted 13-0 on Monday to approve on third and final reading a bill that would encourage Filipino scientists, engineers, and innovators abroad to return to the country by providing them with more benefits.
Sen. Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, principal author of Senate Bill No. 1533. known as the Balik Scientist Act, said the measure would institutionalize the Balik Scientist Program, which was first launched in 1975.
The bill aims “to bring back Filipino scientists, engineers, and technology entrepreneurs to work in various fields, including heath, food and agriculture, information and communications technology (ICT), and even alternative energy.”
“It is about time that we institutionalized and strengthened the Balik Scientist Program so that more brilliant Filipino minds residing abroad can help our nation move forward into prosperity,” Aquino said in a statement.
Under the bill, returning scientists can enjoy, among others, tax and duty exemptions to importation of professional equipment and materials, exemption from licensing or permitting requirements, free medical and accident insurance “covering the duration of the engagement awarded by the Department of Science and Techonology (DOST), reimbursement of expenses for baggage related to scientific projects, and even exemption from “renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath.”
Grantees can also participate in Grants-in-Aid (GIA) research and development projects of the DOST with an initial lump sum research subsidy of P500,000 for a short-term program, P500,000 to P2 million for a medium-term program, and P2 million for the long-term program, in accordance with relevant government rules and regulations and the need of the program involved.
Aquino said the benefits also include special working and non-working visas, a round-trip business class airfare from a foreign country to the Philippines “exempt from local travel tax,” and DOST-subsidized visa applications.
Also under the bill, 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.
Aquino said the “array of benefits and incentives” would help address the lack of scientists working in the Philippines, caused by their exodus for greener pastures abroad.”
It was discovered during committee deliberations on the bill that the Philippines has only 189 scientists per million population, far from the ideal target of 380 per million population. /atm