In 1975, a young graduate of the University of the Philippines named Teresita packed her bags to pursue her post-graduate studies in the United States. Dismayed at her country’s economic and political state then, she vowed never to come back.
More than thirty years later, during a press briefing announcing a program for returning Filipino scientists, the lady now carrying the title Dr. Kullberg, momentarily stops in answering a question from a reporter. To her own surprise, she breaks down and regrets the pledge she had made before her father that she won't ever return to the country that educated and nurtured her.
I chose to share this anecdote in starting this blog because it was the first time in a formal press event that a guest or speaker was completely carried away by her emotions--or should we say "guilt". But more on this later.
Dr. Kullberg is one of the seven awardees named by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) under its "Balik Scientist" (Returning Scientist) program. As a short-term applicant, Dr. Kullberg will teach a graduate class at UP, her alma mater, for at least for a month.
Also included in the roster are six Filipino doctoral degree holders who all earned their graduate degrees abroad. They will also teach or undertake research work at UP.
What made these scientists return, and in the case of Dr. Kullberg, eat her words? Tessa Salazar, science reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, asked if guilt was a major reason.
"Guilt, you know, is a good thing," lahar (which means, mud flow) expert Dr. Kevin Rodolfo, one of the awardees, immediately shot back. "God probably invented it so you won't just think of yourself, but other people as well."
Before Salazar threw her question, I asked DOST Sec. Estrella F. Alabastro if the country is enjoying a boom of Filipino academicians returning to their homeland, similar to what is happening in India and China.
She answered that indeed, the number of foreign-educated scientists has increased over the years. Unlike the older batch of academicians who studied abroad, young Filipinos immediately go back to the Philippines as soon as they get their degrees or training.
"That's because things have improved here and there are now more opportunities for them," Alabastro explained.
Dr. Cynthia Goh, another program recipient who is currently a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, said she feels alluded to every time the term "brain drain" is mentioned since they're based overseas.
"However, we also need to have those education and trainings abroad which we can bring into the country," Goh said. She added that with their foreign exposure, these academicians can help the country focus on areas wherein it can stand out and stay out on those where it has no chance of succeeding against other nations.
Hearing these scientists speak, I feel a bit relieved. Hopefully, their words and deeds would disprove an observation uttered years ago by an astute foreigner, who said that Filipinos love their families but don't love their country.
I have no issue on guilt as being one of the factors that drives these educated Filipinos back to the Philippines. As Dr. Rodolfo said, it's actually a good thing.
But, I'd like also to see the day when these fortunate men and women would realize that it's not merely guilt--but responsibility--that should steer them back to their country of birth.
After all, it is the entire social structure of that country, not to mention taxpayer's money, which supported them in the hopes that someday that bright kid would give back what the country invested in him or her.