Siegfred Aldous Lacerna

Published: June 7, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — Five years after the Magna Carta for Scientists was amended to allow scientists to extend their service beyond mandatory government retirement through contractual agreements, a retired climatologist expressed hope for more effective knowledge transfer on climate science.

Lourdes Tibig, who retired from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) in 2008, is optimistic about this change, noting that the science of climate change is constantly evolving.

“It’s a big thing that even if you’re near the retirement age, you can still choose to work and perhaps spend most of that time to transfer knowledge by teaching young and budding scientists in the agencies,” said 80-year-old Tibig, who currently serves as an advisor at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change, facing threats like rising sea levels, droughts, and harm to wildlife and vulnerable communities.

Tibig stressed that a major part of their role as seasoned climate scientists is to capacitate those who are just starting in the field. 

The amended Magna Carta for Scientists states that retired employees with the right qualifications and the capability to undertake scientific research activities may be rehired “without refunding the unexpired portion of the gratuity and accumulated leave benefits” they received from the government. This is only allowed if there is no one else qualified for the job. 

The services of scientists nearing their retirement can be extended for up to five years if the research is a high priority for the government and is critical for national development. 

Under the law, time spent working during the extension will be counted as government service. Additionally, such extension entitles the employee to leave credits and other benefits. 

The law also states that a certain retiree who will extend service would receive leave credits and other benefits under the law. 

“If the government and the society do not have the perspective that scientists our age can still contribute something to the field, we could have been forced to stop working at the age of retirement,” Tibig said, who, 16 years after retirement, has continued to work in climate-related undertakings. 

Removal of honoraria caps

In addition to allowing the rehiring of retired scientists, the 2019 amendment also lifted the cap on honoraria for personnel who “rendered services beyond established regular workload of scientists, technologists, researchers and technicians whose broad superior knowledge, expertise, of professional standing in a specific field contributes to productivity and innovativeness.”

Science and technology personnel can receive unlimited honoraria from externally funded grants, meaning those that do not come from legislated budget for government agencies. Climate grants from foreign entities, like governments, are examples of these external funding sources. 

For Dr. Edsel Salvana, who was part of DOST’s Balik Scientist Program and the National Institutes of Health, the amendments to the Magna Carta for Scientists boosted scientists’ morale based on the conversations he had with his colleagues. 

“They would be availing of it if they are ever in a position where they have external grants that could otherwise have been capped by government rules,” Salvana said. 

The law was also changed to give the same benefits to scientists outside DOST whose work involves research and development, as certified by their agency head.

“It is very important that scientists working in government outside of DOST be able to access the same benefits as DOST scientists since otherwise, they would feel like second class citizens when their contributions to research are just as important as those in DOST,” Salvana noted. 

On the other hand, Chris Perez, a senior weather forecaster at PAGASA, said they have been enjoying the law’s benefits since its creation in 1997, including hazard pay, subsistence allowance, longevity pay, and honoraria. 

More push vs brain drain

However, both Tibig and Salvana noted that the government initiatives for scientists should not stop at the 2019 amendments to the Magna Carta law. They believe more is needed to keep science personnel afloat.

“The amendments of the law are meant to be availed by scientists who have established names. But what about the budding ones?” Tibig said, adding that the government should establish and develop a system that would incentivize young scientists to continue working in the country, especially because passion in science alone cannot put food on the table.

Tibig emphasized the glaring gaps in the salary scale for scientists in the Philippines, a reality that forces many to seek better opportunities abroad. Losing scientists to other countries is a significant loss for the Philippines.

In 2016, almost 10.2 million Filipinos were already working overseas, 42.1% of which were in the Americas, 24.3% in the Middle East, 16.3% in other Asian countries and 8.5% in Europe. 

“We need to have a serious program to be able to build the capacities of young people in order to become scientists and to focus their efforts on research and development,” Tibig said.

This program could involve scholarships and attractive wages. She said with more scientists contributing, the Philippines can produce its own technologies for various scientific endeavors. 

DOST Secretary Renato Solidum acknowledged that while the amended Magna Carta for Scientists’ benefits attract S&T personnel to government service, these may not be enough to prevent people from leaving, considering that jobs abroad are “more lucrative.” 

Revisiting the Magna Carta and coming up with a new law providing for more comprehensive and competitive benefits for our S&T personnel would encourage more R&D activities fueling progress through science and technology,” Solidum told Climate Tracker Asia.

For Salvana, the compensation for scientists should be pegged at levels competitive with those abroad, including government-funded projects. He stressed that any further amendments should focus on improving compensation, providing tax breaks, and expediting the procurement of scientific equipment.

“Otherwise, we will keep losing scientists since why would they stay when they have better alternatives?” Salvana said.