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[CEBU] Filipino scientists say more money is needed for basic science following the success of a scheme to divert some research funds to more 'blue skies' topics.

Half of the government's research and development (R&D) budget should go towards basic research instead of the current 20 per cent, according to Jaime C. Montoya, president of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP), which funds basic research.

"The global competition is now in basic science, so we're putting more emphasis on basic research," he told SciDev.Net. "Some of our neighbours [in the region] are already doing so."

Montoya's comments follow the successful implementation of some projects through the National Integrated Basic Research Agenda (NIBRA), launched in November 2008, which allows basic science researchers better access to Philippine government funds.

Under NIBRA, the NRCP has been able to tap the grants-in-aid programme of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which funds research projects by government scientific agencies as well as projects in other areas such as technology transfer.

"Any project that [the NRCP] approved but cannot fund is recommended to the DOST for funding," DOST Undersecretary Graciano P. Yumul said.

Two projects started last year and four others from various disciplines are due to start soon, said Montoya.

"The NRCP has a very small budget — about US$450,000 a year. Now that we are able to access DOST funds, more basic research can be undertaken," Montoya told SciDev.Net.

"But it's not enough," he said. "We need more funds." Montoya said the country's overall research budget should also be increased.

The budget for DOST's grants-in-aid programme has been increasing annually, with this year's allocation reaching US$32 million, roughly 7 per cent more than last year's US$30 million.

But the allocation for the research component of this programme has hardly changed from the US$12 million annual share in 2008, said Rosella B. Dolor, DOST's project development officer.

Researchers said they were hopeful that the new administration, after May's presidential elections, would continue to move the basic science agenda forwards.  

Liza G. Custodio, supervising administrative officer of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, said her institute's goal is to raise at least US$400,000 each year for basic research instead of the current US$10,000 or less.

"Our goal is to focus more on basic research because this is the foundation for applied science. It would help a lot if we are able to access government funds," Custodio said.