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Editorial

Dumb and docile

/ 05:30 AM October 18, 2020

Though he has apologized to the UP community, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda continues to take potshots at the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI).

In addition to calling the UP MSI scientists “bayaran” (paid hacks), an accusation many in the journalistic community to which Antiporda used to belong would find richly ironic, Antiporda also chided the institute for making their criticism public, instead of supposedly writing or texting Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu about their concerns.

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Antiporda’s broadsides were occasioned by a statement issued by UP MSI that warned of longer-lasting damage to Manila Bay by the ill-conceived “white sand beach” the department had touted as a “beautification” project. To bolster his charges against UP MSI, the undersecretary cited the “half a billion pesos” that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources allegedly paid the institute since 2016 for consultancies on projects around the country.

Why are the UP experts, who are working for the government themselves, charging the government “extra” for their services? Antiporda posed the question while explaining that since the scientists are being paid for their work with the department, the institute had lost its right to criticize the DENR’s projects.

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But a netizen, pointing out that the UP MSI’s collaborations with the DENR involved “valuable research in coral reef restoration and research, giant clam restocking, expeditions to understand processes in our internal seas, Benham Rise and the disputed West Philippine Sea, and so much more,” posits that the P389 million spent to dump dolomite “over a 500 m by 60 m stretch” of the bayside which has been “eroded in a matter of two weeks” is still higher than the total spent to remunerate the UP MSI scientists and experts over a span of a decade, in fact, and not just since 2016.

In light of his attacks on the marine scientists and on science as a whole, as well as his patent ignorance of even the most basic science behind the project, Antiporda, said the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, “should be removed from his post due to unnecessary and vile antipathy he is courting against the local science community.”

Another group, the Geographic Society of the University of the Philippines, likewise called on Antiporda to resign, “considering your ill-fitting background for the job as well as your disregard for the opinions of other Filipino scientists.” He should formally retract his statements, the group said, and “resign from your position as undersecretary as both a form of accountability and to give way to other better qualified candidates.”

This imbroglio over the dolomite beach, which now sports a darker muddy hue due to what Antiporda preposterously called the “washing in” of the bay’s natural black sand, is indicative of the entire anti-science, anti-transparency, anti-accountability mindset prevailing in the Duterte administration.

In another instance, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque admonished scientists and experts from UP and the University of Santo Tomas comprising the independent Octa Research Group to “desist” from disclosing to the public their projections and recommendations on the COVID-19 pandemic. Roque took exception to the research group’s practice of recommending and commenting on the government’s quarantine classifications instead of, as he put it, coursing these “privately to the IATF so as not to preempt, highlighting the fact that classifications are normally announced” by the President himself.

Reports said the spokesperson issued his admonition to Octa after the research team urged the government to consider reimposing stricter community quarantine classifications or localized lockdowns in Bauan, Batangas; Calbayog, Western Samar; and General Trias, Cavite. The researchers cited the increasing daily attack rate of the new coronavirus in the three areas in the past two weeks. So clearly, there is crucial public interest and welfare at stake in this tug-of-war between Octa and the presidential spokesperson.

Why is Roque so leery of public statements coming from private entities regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic? Obviously, he desires to control the flow of information from government officialdom to the public at large, insisting on the privilege to sit as arbiter over the process of filtering, disseminating, calibrating, and window-dressing information and policy. Such a mindset only betrays the Duterte administration’s anti-intellectualism, penchant for ill-advised actions, and aversion to scrutiny that it can’t spin or control.

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At a time when a drastic public health and economic problem demands serious, thoughtful responses from all sectors and the engagement of a vigilant, well-informed citizenry, what officials desire, it seems, is for the public — the very taxpayers paying for their salaries — to play dumb and docile to their moves.

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TAGS: Benny Antiporda, DENR, Editroial, Harry Roque, Manila Bay white sand project, UP Marine Science Institute
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