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On lack of funding for government institutions

The recent brouhaha over a popular (some may say infamous) media personality’s criticism of the Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) Emergency Room (ER) and its protocols bring to mind the state of that hospital’s resources especially as it is expected to cater to the needs of so many (too many perhaps?) people. The PGH is arguably the premier government hospital and is also a teaching one with the University of the Philippines Manila’s students in their Colleges of Medicine and Allied Medical Professions providing a significant part of the manpower for the hospital. The PGH like many other institutions like it lacks the funding it needs to provide the services expected of it. The millions it received as part of the UP budget is not just for patients but also covers salaries and operating costs for the hospital. And yet it is able to deliver much more than what it is given in terms of resources.

I suddenly recall the many occasions when the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) was called upon by national agencies and both legislative houses to comment on national and local transportation issues. In many cases, the Center was asked if it can develop models and other tools to aid agencies and congress in decision-making. The Center’s response has always been positive but with the condition for it to be given the resources it needs to do the tasks expected of it. It is not possible to come up with detailed, realistic transport simulation models for cities, for example, without the sophisticated, industry-grade software and the data required to calibrate it. The agencies and congress can only promise to provide the necessary resources and so far we these have yet to translate into something tangible.

So I find it sad for people to be bashing the hospital and others like it for what they think is poor performance for such institutions. Private hospitals like St. Luke’s and Medical City, mind you, deliver similar services but for many times the cost. You expect hotel-grade rooms and atmosphere, then you should expect to pay for those. You expect a world class research centre, you need to provide for its resources including funding for research. Lip service or “laway” doesn’t give you much in terms of the desired outcomes. Mabuti pa yung micro-satellite malaki ang pondo! And with all due respect to my friends who are involved in that program, they have shown what full funding support can do in terms of accomplishments.

Mobilizing sustainable transport for development

The United Nations (UN) has recently published a new report on “Mobilizing sustainable transport for development” authored by a High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport formed by the UN. The report and other resources may be found at the following website:

Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport

This is under the UN’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. You can check out the other materials at the website. The UN has many initiatives on sustainable transport and has been very active in promoting or advocating for sustainable transport for a long time now. It is through the UN Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), for example, that the Philippines and other ASEAN countries were able to formulate their national EST strategies. The new report continues on the UN’s commitment to promote sustainable transport to improve people’s lives around the world.

Acquisitions

The last time the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) was able to benefit from the acquisition of equipment for research and extension work was in the mid-90’s when the last of the big ticket items like the Horiba mobile air quality monitoring equipment were delivered. These items were donated by the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). At the time, there was a strong JICA presence at the Center that included several experts and visiting professors because of the project that transformed what was previously the Transport Training Center (TTC) into the NCTS.

Many of the donated equipment eventually showed signs of wear and tear as a lot of researches employed them; some sparingly and others extensively. Of course, there were items such as the mainframe computer, that rapidly lost relevance and value due to the much rapid developments in computers. The problem with big ticket items, as we later found out, was that it was quite expensive to maintain and even operate them. This was especially true for the Horiba, which cost a lot because of the calibration gases required for field experiments and the costly repairs at a time when components had to be shipped to Japan and back because there were no qualified technicians in the Philippines. It was okay back then when JICA maintained a presence at the Center since the experts were able to use their budgets or apply for support for repairs directly to JICA. It became so much difficult later when, after the NCTS Project was concluded, it became just too difficult to get support for equipment repair. After almost 10 years of submitting applications and justifications for repairs or replacements, and promises by JICA experts assigned to national agencies, we practically gave up on the matter and resigned ourselves to the prospect of never getting such important tools in the foreseeable future.

In 2007, however, hope was reborn in the form of the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) program supported by the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The ERDT involved a consortium of the top universities in the country led by the University of the Philippines Diliman. It was an ambitious yet realistic program that had the best intentions of giving R&D in engineering a much needed boost. Among the essential elements of the program was the upgrading of facilities at UP that led to the construction of new laboratories and the acquisition of modern equipment to encourage relevant researches. The Institute of Civil Engineering would be acquiring a shaking table for earthquake engineering research, recent-model hydraulics equipment, and long delayed upgrades to construction materials testing machines.

In the case of its Transportation Engineering Group, the latter’s affiliation with the NCTS led to the proposals for acquiring equipment that would allow for more progressive studies on Traffic and Highway Engineering. Among those in the wishlist that were approved and have been delivered are a portable digital axle weighing equipment and a portable particulate matter monitoring system. Also approved was equipment that would finally upgrade and revive the Center’s mobile air quality measurement and monitoring system. In fact, the equipment intended for air quality measurements will also benefit the Institute’s Environment and Energy Engineering Group.

Such equipment are vital if the University is to be at par with the best in the region and perhaps, if sustained, in the world. The fact that we have been left behind is an understatement and we cannot pursue relevant and progressive researches if we do not have the necessary tools to implement programs and projects. True, we probably have the brainpower to do research considering many have been trained at the best institutions abroad, yet unless we are able to create tools and things straight out from the power of our minds, we are limited and will just end up frustrated about not being able to undertake the research and extension that we are supposed to do, whose outcomes may just spell the difference if this country of ours is to move towards progress and a more prosperous future for its citizens.