11 July 2017 – The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology – National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP), hosted the first panel discussion on Science Diplomacy as part of their Foreign Diplomacy Module for the Batch XXIV Foreign Service Officer Cadets. The panel was composed of Dr. Alfredo Robles, an expert in international relations, Dr. Josefino Comiso, NASA emeritus scientist, Dr. Rogel Mari Sese of the National Space Development Program, and Dr. Ma. Carmen Ablan-Lagman, expert in the field of genetic biodiversity.
The panel discussion started with brief presentations from the experts on how science diplomacy is conducted in their fields, which reinforced the relevance, reach, and magnitude of science and technology (S&T) diplomacy. The speakers established how science diplomacy has increasingly made its mark as an additional and/or an alternative tool to forge cooperation among states especially as many global issues require global solutions. Dr. Comiso, stressed that there is a pool of great Filipino scientists, many of which have been identified through projects such as the DOST Balik Scientist Program, yet this important resource has yet to be fully-maximized to further our national goals.
The dialogue that followed between the experts and the cadets established the need for a deeper collaboration between Filipino diplomats and S&T experts, so that existing scientific studies can be maximized to foster sustainable development, as well as national and economic security for the Philippines. For example, Dr. Ablan-Lagman mentioned that a team of researchers observing the marine environment in Bajo de Masinloc has just discovered blue foreign species eating away the planktons in the area. The results of such studies may play a crucial role in exploring and exploiting scientific knowledge to advance Philippine interest relating to the preservation of our marine biodiversity or even in pursuit of promoting national security.
The panelists agree that while both scientists and diplomats work towards common goals, there is currently a lack of communication channels that bridge the two fields. Ideally, there should be regular exchange between the two spheres to bridge this gap, but unfortunately, as Dr. Robles stressed, “[y]ou can’t really bridge the gap [between the fields of science and diplomacy], but you can narrow it down.”
The panel discussion emphasized the need for concrete steps to create a dialogue between scientists and diplomats. Dr. Ablan-Lagman stated that on one hand, diplomats must seek out scientific knowledge whenever necessary to make informed decisions and sound policies. Dr. Comiso and Dr. Robles suggested the use of readily-available, published research journals, from institutions like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and World Research Institute for Science and Technology, as well as publications by reputable NGOs as important sources of scientific information. Dr. Sese pointed out that, on the other hand, it is the responsibility of scientists to reach out and ensure that scientific information is communicated well enough that easily translates the scientific knowledge into terms utilizable by diplomats in international negotiations.
The experts further believe that, with synergistic partnership with scientists, Philippine diplomats can be better equipped to serve and protect Philippine interest in pressing and emerging challenges, including climate change, pollution, food and water stability, biodiversity collapse, pandemic diseases, energy, and space security, among others. As earlier cited, Dr. Ablan-Lagman cited her current research undertakings in marine biodiversity, a field where there are many opportunities to align the domestic need for protecting our biodiversity with the need for maritime security cooperation in the region.
The panel discussion was moderated by FSI Deputy Director-General Julio S. Amador, III. Representatives from the partner agency NRCP, namely Executive Director Marietta Sumagaysay and Chief Administrative Officer Geraldo Petilla were also present.