19 May 2021, Geneva – Philippine Secretary of Science and Technology Fortunato T. de la Peña urged a high-level United Nations panel yesterday to “make science and technology work” in order to “overcome the crisis without leaving anyone behind.”

Speaking from Manila through teleconference, Secretary de la Peña told the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) that despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the pandemic presents opportunities to leverage technologies not only in addressing the health emergency but also in further pursuing sustainable development.

The Philippine minister also briefed the commission on the country’s experience in “reinventing available technologies” to address COVID-19.

This includes the development of local COVID-19 rRT-PCR detection kit using the same technology that the Philippines used for detecting dengue, the use of an epidemiological modeler software to monitor the spread of the pandemic, as well as 3D printing of face shields and various hospital items, among others.

Secretary de la Peña said the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been collaborating with the private sector, the academe, and civil society through the Collaborative Research and Development to Leverage the Philippine Economy (CRADLE) Program, and that the government has been helping business acquire research and development (R&D) and innovation capacities through the Business Innovation Through Science and Technology (BIST) Program.

He added that the Philippines also provides technological upgrading assistance to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and has been promoting connectivity through the National Broadband Program and the WiFi For All Program.

At the same meeting, U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Director for Technology and Logistics Shamika N. Sirimane cited the Philippines as the second best “overperformer” worldwide in terms utilizing frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and Big Data during her briefing on UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report for 2021.

Citing the same UNCTAD report, Secretary de la Peña flagged that developing countries still face several challenges in promoting equal access to the benefits of frontier technologies. This includes the digital divide.

“While rapid technological change brings promising benefits, these advances may also worsen inequalities within and among countries,” the secretary said.

Several delegates agreed on the need to address challenges such as the digital divide through international cooperation, with CSTD Vice Chair Alfredo Suescum seeking Secretary de la Peña’s comments on how such cooperation is best carried out.

In response, Secretary de la Peña said the Philippines proactively identifies the areas where international cooperation is needed. The country then reaches out to partners that are in the best position to give assistance. As a result, the country has benefitted from a network of bilateral partnerships.

The secretary encouraged countries to also pursue such collaboration.

“It is high time that we extend a helping hand to one another, may it be through North-South, South-South, triangular, regional, or multilateral cooperation,” he said.

The CSTD is holding its annual meeting virtually from Geneva this week to produce high-level recommendations on the role of science, technology, and innovation (STI) in addressing longstanding and emerging development challenges.

Formed in 1992 as a subsidiary body of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the commission is the U.N.’s focal point for STI. It serves as a forum for strategic planning, sharing of best practices, and providing foresight about critical STI trends in key sectors of the economy, the environment, and society, with a focus on drawing attention to emerging and disruptive technologies.

Secretary de la Peña chaired the CSTD in 2012.