SENATOR Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. the other day urged the government to help Filipina inventor Aisa Mijeno realize her group’s goal of mass producing its salt-water powered LED lamp invention.
Marcos made the exhortation in sadness. He observed that the Philippine government has done nothing to support Mijeno’s invention, while an American, US President Barack Obama himself, and a Chinese, the billionaire Jack Ma who founded and heads the wealthy and extremely successful internet giant Alibaba Group, had extolled our compatriot and raved about the greatness of her invention.
Mijeno, who is the chief executive officer of SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting), shared the limelight with Obama and Ma at the APEC Summit of CEOs. Obama was the moderator of the session after he gave a speech on climate change. Mijeno told the audience that her group needed funding to mass-produce the lamp.
Senator Marcos expressed his lament over this, saying, “The SALt’s invention has gained international attention and earned various awards, and it is puzzling why we have not seen any effort from the [Philippine] government to help bring this product of Filipino ingenuity to the market.”
Mijeno’s LED lamp can provide eight hours of light powered only by a solution of water and two tablespoons of salt or plain seawater. This could be a boon to remote rural folk all over the world who still do not enjoy the comfort of having electric power.
Marcos suggested that “at the very least, concerned government agencies should take the initiative of reaching out to Mijeno’s group to inform them of the assistance they could avail themselves of under RA 7459, or the Investors and Inventions Incentives Act.”
But the fact is that inventors who tried to benefit from RA 7459 have had the bitter experience of finding it very difficult to get any assistance. That is why in many of these instances, our inventors end up funded by foreigners who commercialize their profit-making inventions.
Sen. Marvos warned: “Unless we [Filipinos and our government] give them adequate support, we would always lose out to investors abroad who are ever on the lookout for promising new products.”
Meanwhile, the patriotic scientists and inventors grouped under the association AGHAM-Scientists for the People have also made an incisive critique of the power situation in our country and Mijeno’s invention.
In a statement titled “US-Prescribed Measures Pushing Rural Communities into Darkness,” AGHAM urged the public to realize that despite US President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Engineer Aisa Mijeno’s saltwater lamp prototype, the people should take “a closer look at the United States’ role in the disappointing state of the country’s power sector.”
“While there are still questions on the technical soundness and economic viability of SALt, we should be asking a more salient question: Why do we need these lamps in the first place?” said AGHAM.
The scientists added: “According to Engr. Mijeno, she was inspired by the Kalingas, an indigenous group in the North, who have no access to social services such as electricity. The government’s move to privatize the power sector has resulted in our current paradox: our cities suffer from exorbitant electricity rates while far-flung communities dream of electric lamps.
“There is also lackluster support for community-based alternative energy sources amid a power industry that is monopolized by a few companies in partnership with foreign firms. The power sector is currently dominated by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Aboitiz Power, and the Lopez group of companies, which collectively supply about 60 percent of the country’s total electricity; SM tycoon Henry Sy with a majority stake in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, and Manuel Pangilinan’s MVP Group, which controls power distribution in Luzon through Meralco. SMC and Aboitiz Power are also part of Meralco and are currently moving to wrest control of several electric consumer cooperatives in the country.
“The current orientation of the power sector that is profit-driven and foreign-controlled is outlined in the 14-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). The EPIRA follows the template of privatization, denationalization, and deregulation aggressively pushed by the United States since the 1990s. So Obama is being two-faced when he commends Mijeno’s product while his government is actively pushing for the dismantling of social protections for social services under the deregulated and denationalized regimes of such mechanisms as the APEC, the TPP and the WTO.
“Moreover, under EPIRA, there is little room for local scientists to harness potential energy resources. Our energy technologies are imported from countries such as the US and China, and often rely on cheap but highly polluting fossil-based technologies.”
Yes, we should laud Filipino scientists and engineers like Aisa Mijeno who use their skills in directly serving the marginalized sectors of society, but the government should take steps to solve the power situation and make our country’s science and technology self-sufficient.