In celebration of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (PhilAAST) 70th anniversary and as a prelude to its annual national convention, DOST-MIMAROPA as the lead of the DOST South Luzon Cluster, DOST-CALABARZON, and DOST Region 5 held a regional symposium last September 8, 2021, to highlight initiatives related to enhancing responses to health crises. 

With the theme “Enhancing Response to Current and Future Pandemics Through Science, Technology, and Innovation”, the regional symposium tackled local STI-based pandemic responses by various sectors in the regions of CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, and Bicol.

PHILAAST officials and members, DOST officials, speakers, and reactors during the PhilAAST Regional Symposium (South Luzon Cluster)

Discussions revolved around Strengthening the Institutional Infrastructure for Pandemic Preparedness, Issues and Challenges in Higher Education in the New Normal, and Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

Hon. Angelina Tan, 4th district representative of the Quezon Province shared the importance of institutional infrastructures in pandemic preparedness. She talked about the policy priorities by the national government during the crisis to include the Universal Healthcare Law, House Bill 8999 or the Medical Reserve Corps Act, House Bill 9456 or the Health Procurement and Stockpiling Act, House Bill 9560, or the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention Act, and the Executive Order 138 or the devolution of the basic services and facilities to the local government units (LGU).

She also dwelled on the House Bill 9559 or the Virology Institute of the Philippines Act which was lobbied by the DOST to conduct innovative and pioneering research to advance the frontiers of virology in the country.

As the education sector is also heavily affected by the pandemic. Dr. Jose Camacho Jr, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) shared the experiences of the university in searching for effective learning methods for the youth amidst COVID-19. He mentioned that the new normal is an eye-opener and encouraged the education sector to embrace new trends in instructional delivery to prepare for a world that is full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or VUCA. Dr. Camacho emphasized the importance of utilizing information and communication technologies to facilitate the learning of students regardless of their locations and maintaining the human element in teaching and learning.

In her remarks, Dr. Ma. Josefina P. Abilay, Regional Director of DOST-MIMAROPA shared that there are still many vulnerable populations in the regions that were greatly affected and are recovering more slowly from the impacts of the pandemic. “It is essential that aside from focusing on reducing infections and fatalities, we must redouble our efforts to lessen the negative economic consequences of the outbreak, especially in relation to jobs, productivity, and growth,” she said.

With the pandemic being unfavorable for the MSMEs, Ms. Rosalina See Tan talked about the importance of innovation for the continued growth of businesses. She shared that a business must be able to sustain itself and constantly evolve to fulfill the needs of the community and the people and must always come up with new innovations and solutions to make life better, easier, and more useful.

Presidents from State Colleges and Universities in MIMAROPA, Dr. Merian Mani from Marinduque State College, and Dr. Diosdado Zulueta from Marinduque State College served as reactors during the activity.

DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Pena in his keynote message enumerated the initiatives of DOST and the DOST Regional Offices in various areas to speed up national recovery and increase the resiliency of Filipinos. He highlighted contributions in research and development such as on the benefits of VCO and herbal medicines like Lagundi and Tawa-tawa to provide symptomatic relief for COVID19 patients; development of FASSSTER and TanodCOVID applications for COVID-19 tracking and monitoring for LGUs; promotion of telehealth and other digital applications for health such as the repurposing of the Rxbox medical device; and the development of SPASS for travel management.

Secretary de la Pena added that coordinated STI-based efforts of various sectors are effective in providing significant developments to solve the current crisis. “We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic demands collaboration from all of us in different sectors. As the pandemic enters its second year, I want to emphasize that now is the time to improve the ways we empower the people with STI through greater cooperation” he said.

DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Pena as he shares DOST’s initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis

PhilAAST president Dr. Jaime Montoya highlighted that the regional symposium gathered leaders from various sectors to build resilience and ensure that a shared solution to a shared challenge is being implemented. The symposium was attended by the science community, local government units, MSMEs, and the academe.