Foreign-trained Filipino virologists eye return to Philippines, help develop virology center

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 15 2021 01:39 PM

Healthworkers wait for residents who wish to be tested at a drive thru testing center in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig on April 29, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Several Filipino virologists who are about to graduate from foreign institutions have expressed interest in returning to the Philippines to help the country develop its own virology center, an official said Thursday.

Filipino virologists have been sending messages to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) after the government announced its plan to create the Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP), Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina Guevara said.

"I have been receiving emails from Filipinos from outside the country na malapit na matapos abroad and they are hoping to be part of the VIP," she told reporters in an online press conference.

"There are those who really want to serve the country because it is a really good time to be here," she said.

The proposed institute is expected to serve as the country’s premier research center on virology, Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña earlier said.

"Research studies on viral agents will focus on vector/reservoir transmission, viral ecology, clinical virology, pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and host immune response to these viral pathogens," he said.

The center would also enable Filipino scientists to "to work collaboratively to study viruses of agricultural, industrial, clinical, and environmental importance."

Most Filipino virologists have to study and train abroad as the Philippines has yet to offer the course in the country, the Undersecretary said.

This is why the Philippines is also planning to "convert" existing programs into virology courses, she said.

"We need ready-made na na virologists," she said.

"We either get them from the countries where they are available or we come up with a program that can convert certain fields... It takes one year lang so we might go for that kind of training," she said.

Guevara did not mention the proposed compensation package for Filipino virologists who would work in the institute, but noted that "many scientists are not really after the money and glory."

"It's the scientific mind, curiosity and inquisitiveness," she said.

"'Yun talaga ang nagingibabaw... 'Yun talaga ang motivation ng maraming magagaling na scientists," she said.

In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Balik Scientist Act to entice Filipino scientists to return to the Philippines to work by giving them more incentives.

Under the law, scientists who will be repatriated to the Philippines will be exempted from licensing requirements from the Professional Regulation Commission, and will be given accident and medical insurance coverage.

The Act also mandates the national government to shoulder a scientist's "round trip airfare originating from a foreign country to the Philippines," as well as reimbursements for "excess baggage allowance related to scientific projects."

Returning scientists will also be exempted from "tax and duty exemption in the donation of equipment, instruments and materials to the DOST" and from "renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took oath."

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