Diwata-1 fall-out: Engineers hit DOST
At least two engineers who worked on the Diwata-1, the Philippines’ first microsatellite, have taken to social media to air their grievances against the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for supposedly not giving them full credit and enough compensation for their work.
In a now-viral post, UP-Diliman BS Electronics and Communications Engineering graduate Paolo Espiritu wrote in detail the struggles which the Filipino engineers endured to finish Diwata-1 in just under a year—a “miracle” considering that microsatellites are normally developed within four to five years.
“It all started in 2014, when we were invited to work on the project. We have just finished our engineering degrees then, and naturally we were all excited to build the Philippines’ first microsatellite. But upon receiving the contracts, all of us were confused as to exactly what our involvement in the project is. All (that) the contract entailed was for us to receive a scholarship to study Aerospace Engineering in exchange for years of return service,” Espiritu said in his April 1 post.
He said that the contract given to them provided that they had to build a microsatellite without pay with four years of return service.
“On paper, we were just students. On paper, we weren’t part of the project. On paper, we were not engineers,” he said.
Espiritu said they asked DOST officials to revise the contract and detail their participation in the project as engineers. Instead, they were told to sign the contract “in good faith” and were promised that they will “be taken care of” when they fly to Japan for the making of the Diwata-1.
“We were given a promise — a promise that a more suitable contract will be made, stating our clear involvement and responsibilities for the project, and most importantly, our rights as engineers. In their words, ‘take it in good faith, that you will be taken care of’. As we had high respect and trust for DOST and the leaders of the project, we agreed to sign the papers, thinking that this mission of building the satellite is above any of us,” he said.
However, Espiritu claimed that from 2014 until the day that Diwata-1 was sent to space on March 23, 2016, the Filipino engineers were still labeled as “students” and that no better contract for them has materialized.
“They call us ‘students’, yet normal students go in at 9 a.m., and leave at 5 p.m. Normal students attend class all the time. Normal students are almost finished on their individual thesis projects. Normal students have personal time on the weekends. Normal students enjoy holidays. But no. We are not just students. We go in at 9 a.m., and leave at 1 a.m. “
“Most of the days, we have no choice but to skip our classes to work on the microsatellite. We have no chance to work on our thesis projects. We go the lab on Saturdays. We go to the lab on Sundays. We go to the lab on holidays. We go to the lab during Christmas. So no. We are not just students,” Espiritu explained.
He slammed DOST officials, who, supposedly despite not having direct involvement in the making of the microsatellite, are able to “come and go” to Japan and have a “clear involvement in the project on paper.”
“It just really baffles me, how DOST can afford all these visits, the airfare, the accommodation, and the fancy food, but when it comes to the engineers, merely staying in Japan to work on the microsatellite is taken against them, with the 7 year service bond (3 more added to the original 4). This PHL-MICROSAT project is a billion-peso project, and despite being an engineering project, the engineers aren’t included in the project,” he said.
Espiritu’s post has been shared more than 9,500 times as of this writing.
‘We tried to back out three times’
Another Diwata-1 engineer, Julian Marvick Fua Oliveros, has backed Espiritu’s claims. He said that they were “led to sign contracts unfavorable to (them),” adding that the Filipino engineers tried to back out from the project at least three times.
“At one point, we tried backing out three times, yet they all came back to us with promises of a better contract that was never done. In good faith, innocent as we were, we signed the contracts, having complete trust on them and looked up to them with respect,” Oliveros said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
He said that doing the microsatellite was “extremely difficult and back-breaking” as they completed the project in just one year, adding that the engineers had no luxury to study or make plans on their own.
“It was all work, work, work,” Oliveros said.
Despite the supposed ill treatment they received, the team persevered and finished Diwata-1 for the country.
“We were working, not studying. Yet we did not quit, not because of the imaginary contract, but because this is hope for the Filipino people for the country,” Oliveros said.
DOST: Engineers were well-compensated
In a statement, the science and technology department responded to the claims made by the Diwata-1 engineers, saying that they were justly compensated on top of the full scholarship they received from the Japanese universities.
The DOST on Tuesday said that the Filipino engineers were issued student visas in Japan to build the microsatellite and to pursue a master’s degree in relevant engineering fields.
“As scholars, the Diwata-1 engineers in fact receive stipends 35% higher compared to what a Monbusho scholarship provides. On top of that they also get additional compensation for their work in the development of the microsatellite,” the statement read.
It also said that it does not find the term “student” derogatory.
The DOST said that with regard to the return service obligation, it is an essential condition imposed on all government-funded scholarships.
“DOST takes this opportunity to recognize the contributions of its scholars in nation building through science, technology and innovation,” the statement read.
The Diwata-1 has been launched on March 23, 2016 and has reached the International Space Station on March 26.
The microsatellite will be used for imaging of the country’s land and water resources, studying changing weather patterns, agricultural productivity and disaster response and mitigation.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.