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In the Philippines, basic science is now playing second fiddle to applied research and development.

“It's more difficult now to get funding unless the research proposal can be commercialised,” William Padolina tells me as heavy monsoon rains drench Manila. He heads the country’s highest science advisory body, the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), which is holding its 37th Annual Scientific Meeting (8-9 July).

A day before, he told the 10th Scientific Convention of the Philippine Academy of Young Scientists that “basic sciences and mathematics are often regarded as 'good to have' appendage (yet) often avoided even in our higher education institutions”.

Basic or pure research advances fundamental knowledge but its practical applications may be long in coming. That’s too slow for governments in a hurry at solving practical problems in the soonest possible way to show taxpayers where their money goes.

The focus on applied research seems to reflect the present direction of science in the Philippines. And Padolina, a former science secretary, agrees with my thoughts.

I turn to Evelyn Mae Tecson Mendoza, NAST secretary, who has done R&D on the biochemical basis of resistance of selected plants to pests and diseases.

When one applies for funding, one of the first things asked is about the immediate practical benefits of R&D, she says. “But one can't develop a plant variety after only a few years.”

Applied science has always had more funding than basic R&D, adds Edgardo Gomez, a national scientist recognised for his work in marine biology. Good thing, he says, universities have managed to balance the two.

Both should be balanced, notes another national scientist, Ricardo Lantican, a plant breeder and professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. “It takes a while to reap the benefits of basic science R&D. But you have to know first the basic principles, how things work.”

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.