December 8, 2022

The House Committee on Health and Committee on Science and Technology approved a measure proposing the creation of the country’s first public agency specializing in the research and commercialization of virus technology.

In a joint hearing, the two panels approved the substitute bill seeking to establish the Virology Institute of the Philippines.

Under the measure, the institute “shall serve as the premier research and development institute in the field of virology, encompassing all areas in viruses and viral diseases in humans, plants, and animals.”

The institute will work with international organizations and conduct innovative and pioneering research that will advance the frontiers of virology in the country.

It would also serve as a venue for scientists, both here and abroad, to work collaboratively to study viruses of agricultural, industrial, clinical, and environmental importance.

The institute would be under the Department of Science and Technology.

Speaker Martin Romualdez and Tingog Party-list Rep. Yedda Romualdez said the proposed establishment of the Philippine virology institute is a concrete step and strategic response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but also in ensuring the country’s public health emergency preparedness and response.

“The Covid-19 pandemic phenomenon unequivocally demonstrated the rapidity with which new viruses and their variants can travel across the globe and inflict misery. There can be no further argument that our best hope, as that of humankind, for preventing and treatment of infectious diseases and viral infections in humans, as to plants and animals, come from vigorous research and stepping up development breakthroughs in the field of virology and application of advancement in technology for maximum gains in the campaign for sustainable public health response,” they said.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, sponsor and author of the measure, said countries with serum institutes gained access to vaccines quicker and returned to normalcy faster during the pandemic.

He said vaccines and virus-related technology is not merely restricted to human use, considering that agriculture requires virologic study.

“Tungro, the main threat to many rice farms in the country, is a virus. African swine fever is a virus. Our food security rests in large part on our grasp of viruses,” he said.

He said the tax exemptions and the funding provisions for the institute be retained, noting that it has to have its own “dependable stream of funding” from the government aside from the commercialization of technologies as the primary funding source.

“Given the overriding importance of the institute, the Committee on Ways and Means sees the merit of the tax exemptions, especially as they align with our usual tax rules anyway,” he said.

He expressed hope the measure will be enacted into law by the end of 2022 or early in 2023. – PNA