THE bicameral conference committee on Tuesday approved the proposed Balik-Scientist Act, which seeks to provide incentives for scientists and engineers of Filipino descent seeking to relocate to the Philippines.
Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV, chair of the Senate committee on science and technology, said his timetable for both chambers of Congress to ratify the measure is next week.
“Finally, we have it and we can institutionalize the program,” he said.
The House panel was led by Bohol Rep. Erico Aristotle C. Aumentado (2nd district), chair of the House committee on science and technology.
The proposed measure seeks to strengthen the Balik-Scientist Program which was first launched in 1975 to encourage Filipino scientists abroad to return to the country.
It has been identified as among the priority bills by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).
In the version of the measure approved at the bicameral level, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) will administer the Balik-Scientist program and issue the appropriate benefits and incentives provided under the proposed measure.
Eligible for the program are DoST-certified science, technology and innovation experts who are Filipino citizens or foreigners of Filipino descent, undertaking science and technology activities in the Philippines under a short-, medium- or long-term engagement.
At the time of application, the candidate must have been an overseas resident, or living in the Philippines for a maximum of three years.
The approved bill allows exceptions for scientists without graduate degrees with “ exceptional expertise.”
Benefits include exemption from the licensing or permitting requirements of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), medical and accident insurance, tax exemptions for importing equipment, a tax-exempt daily allowance as well as round-trip airfare.
Returning scientists can also seek Grants-in-Aid from the DoST and may receive a one-time incentive bonus.
Sought for comment, DoST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña said: “We really expect a surge in terms of interested Filipino Balik scientists.”
He added that DoST is banking on the additional expertise from returning scientists in order to meet its targets in improving research and development in fields like space technology and artificial intelligence.
Mr. Aquino has estimated that the country needs 19,000 scientists working in both the government and private sector to address weaknesses in research and development. — Camille A. Aguinaldo