Advice is free, science orgs stress after DENR’s remark vs UP scientists

October 14, 2020 - 6:45 PM
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In this Oct. 9, 2020 photo, DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda inspects the bay’s shoreline in Manila, covered with artificial white sand. (The STAR/Edd Gumban)

Science groups on Wednesday condemned the remarks of the spokesperson of the environment department, accusing experts from the University of the Philippines of collecting millions of money from the government.

At a press briefing on October 14, Benny Antiporda, spokesperson and undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, claimed that scientists from the UP-Marine Science Institute have been collecting P500 million from the national government since 2016 and called them “bayaran” or bribed.

“Kalahating bilyon na puro lang consultation, walang infrastructure… Bakit kayo naniningil sa gobyerno matapos kayong pag-aralin ng taumbayan, matapos kayong maging scholar ng taumbayan?” Antiporda said.

“Sisipsipin niyo ang dugo ng taumbayan sa dami niyong kinuhang pondo tapos ngayon gumagawa kami ng maganda, kailangan naming magbayad sa inyo?” he added.

Antiporda continued to lash out and stated that the UP MSI has no right to criticize the government and dared to have them audited.

“Hindi niyo karapatan batikusin ito dahil bayaran kayo. ‘Yun lang po ang masasabi ko sa UP. Uulitin ko, bayaran kayo,” he said.

Antiporda was referring to the scientists’ criticism to the artificial white sand beach made up of crushed dolomite rocks overlaying a small portion of Manila Bay’s shoreline as a “costly and temporary” beautification effort.

Their statement echoed the same concerns raised by environmentalists and other critics back when the environment agency started the project.

The DENR official later responded and noted that the agency will only accept “free” advice from them.

The institution then responded that the consultation or the “scientific advice and technical inputs” is free, citing the UP’s mandate as a national university.

However, the lab work and research require financial support.

“The costs of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities, to support for research assistants, should be, as they actually are shouldered by the clients, as the UPMSI is not a line agency in the government’s executive branch,” it said.

How science groups reacted

AGHAM Diliman, an organization for Diliman-based scientists and advocates, demanded an apology from Antiporda.

“AGHAM Diliman condemns this attack on scientists. What’s the point of funding and conducting research if this won’t be translated to policy? We demand @DENROfficial USec Antiporda to immediately issue an apology!” the group said.

Ariel Rojas, a weather forecaster at the state weather bureau, likewise perceived such remark as an “attack” on Filipino scientists. He said it’s one of the main reasons why the country is behind scientific endeavors.

“Napag-iwanan na nga ang siyensya sa Pilipinas dahil sa kapabayaan ng gobyerno sa mga nakalipas na dekada tapos may latang walang laman ang nag-iingay,” Rojas said.

Fisherfolk rights group Pamalakaya Pilipinas also stressed that the “funds” Antiporda was talking about came from taxpayers, money he claimed the agency “wasted” for the dolomite beach project.

“The funding, intended for research and development, is the reason why UP experts came out with a proposal to plant mangroves, instead of a synthetic white sand. Ultimately, those funds, including the one that you’ve wasted for useless beach nourishment project, were taxpayers’,” they said.

Meanwhile, Earth Shaker Philippines, a science organization known for its science-based trivia and updates, questioned the purpose of encouraging students to become scientists if the government doesn’t listen to them.

“What’s the good of promoting STEM education in the Philippines if when the students become scientists, we refuse to listen to them?” its tweet read.

“Manila Bay would have been much better if we crush, not the dolomite, but the selfish interests of those with power over it,” it added.

Dr. Peter Julian Cayton, associate professor of UP School of Statistics, and member of the UP Pandemic Response Team also added: “And you wonder why Philippine-born scientists leave the country.”

Auditing is welcome

Professor Laura David, director of UP MSI, welcomed the initiative of conducting an audit to their projects even if it is not a government agency.

David further noted that their collaborations with the DENR for the past decade is worth P364,073,909.40.

“Welcome naman po ang audit sa amin. Just like any other government office, kahit kalian naman po puwede talaga i-audit,” she said.

UP professor Theodore Te, former Supreme Court spokesperson, attested to the transparency of UP MSI.

“In my book, The UP MSI is a world-class institution and I’m sure its books and records are open/subject to audit for its projects over the last few years. Would the accuser’s books and records in relation to this one project also be open?” Te said.