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Science groups to Antiporda: Leave DENR

/ 05:32 AM October 16, 2020

Various groups from the local scientific community on Thursday demanded the resignation of Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda for his disparaging remarks against scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP), particularly its Marine Science Institute (MSI).

Antiporda on Wednesday called UP MSI researchers “bayaran” (paid hacks) who had no right to criticize the P389-million Manila Bay beach nourishment project, which includes overlaying a tiny strip of the kilometerslong shore with pulverized dolomite from Cebu.

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His remarks raised questions about his credentials as an environmental official and drew attention to the state of scientific research in the country.

“When science proves inconvenient to Duterte and his lackeys, they are quick to attack and undermine Filipino scientists,” the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), a national organization of scientists, engineers, researchers and science educators, said in a statement.

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“We demand that [Antiporda] be removed from his post due to unnecessary and vile antipathy he is courting against the local science community,” the group said, adding: “The Filipino science community direly needs support, not hostility, from the government.”

In a statement last month, UP MSI outlined the issues in Manila Bay and stressed that the dolomite “sand” would not solve the cause of the heavily polluted bay’s environmental problems.

‘Consultancy’

Citing his own “research,” Antiporda said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had paid “half a billion pesos” to the UP MSI since 2016 for mere consultations. He added that even with that amount, no “infrastructure” was built.

But the country’s national institute for marine sciences said it received P364 million, not P500 million, for 10 projects with the DENR over the past decade.

It said the money supported projects involving the nationwide standardized assessments of the National Integrated Protected Areas Systems sites, enhancing capacity for management and rehabilitation of marine ecosystems and strengthening the understanding of Philippine waters, including the West Philippine Sea and the Benham Rise.

Laura David, the UP MSI director, said Antiporda might not have been familiar with the DENR’s contract with UP. “None of it is consultancy,” she said.

In various interviews on Thursday, Antiporda apologized to the UP community, but kept on taking swipes at MSI.

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“This is not to destroy the good name of the university, but this is to send the message to UP MSI that we are partners here,” he said in a television interview.

“What we are expecting is for you to call us, or even text us or even write a letter to the secretary … [but] you went straight to the media, destroying the good name of the DENR.”

The institute did not seek the media but only posted its statement on its website.

“Scientists stand by our science. Whatever we discover or learn, we share it to the public—that is part of being a scientist, and as part of the UP community,” David said.

Asked why the DENR did not consult UP MSI or other institutes in UP Diliman on the dolomite project, Antiporda said: “We are partners in projects where we pay them.”

The Geographic Society of the University of the Philippines said Antiporda’s behavior was unacceptable for a government official.

“Considering your ill-fitting background for the job as well as your disregard for the opinions of other Filipino scientists, we call on you to formally retract your statements against the UP MSI and to resign from your position as undersecretary, as both a form of accountability and to give way for other, better qualified candidates to work in the department,” the group said.

Only Duterte can decide

Antiporda, however, dismissed calls for his resignation, saying only President Duterte, who had appointed him, could make him quit.

One consequence of his rants against the marine scientists and critics of the Manila Bay beautification project was the renewed focus on the dire state of science and research and development in the country, with Filipino scientists sharing their experiences on social media.

“Currently, we have very little researchers per million Filipinos, well behind neighbors in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” Agham said. “Gross expenditures in research and development stand at only 0.16 percent of the gross domestic product, very far from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization standard at 1 percent.”

Timothy James Cipriano, a graduate student at the UP Department of Geography, said that funds for research projects do not go directly to the researchers themselves.

‘Stages of hell’

“Our salaries are often delayed due to the institutional bureaucratic processes involved,” the former university researcher said on Twitter. “That process is what we jokingly call as the ‘stages of hell.’”

Meteorologist Ariel Rojas said that Antiporda’s comments were an attack, not just against UP MSI, but also against Filipino scientists and science itself.

“Do you know how much sacrifice the Filipino scientist makes? It entails sleep, blood, sweat, our own dreams, and money,” he said on Twitter. “The state of science in the country continues to go backwards because of people who insult the contributions of our scientists and of science to our society … We have been left behind in the Philippines because of the government’s neglect.”

Since his appointment as undersecretary for solid waste management and local government concerns in 2018, Antiporda has emerged as a lead player in the DENR, often seen as a proxy and mouthpiece of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

He has taken a major role in the cleanup and rehabilitation of Manila Bay, which began in January 2018.

Former tabloid publisher

The former National Press Club president was the publisher of tabloid Remate where he remains a regular columnist. He was also an anchor for the government-operated People’s Television Network Inc. from 2009 to 2012.

Antiporda also was the director of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group from 2007 to 2008 and a director of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority from 2016 to 2018. —WITH A REPORT FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING

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TAGS: Antiporda, DENR, dolomite, environment, Manila Bay, scientist, UP
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