Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Benny Antiporda showed a temper hewing close only to the president’s curse-laden speeches when he berated University of the Philippines (UP) over suggestions from a unit of the national university on the Manila Bay rehabilitation and criticisms on the ‘white sand project.’

In a televised public briefing, Antiporda said UP has no right to criticize as they are ‘paid hacks’ of the government.’ Antiporda went on to say UP should give their services for free, yet they demand payment and go on to criticize the government.

What fired up Antiporda?

Antiporda was sought for comment on the UP Institute of Biology (IB) suggestion to invest in mangroves, instead the crushed dolomite laid over a 500-meter portion of Manila Bay. The first phase of the project has covered 120 meters of the total area targeted for ‘beach nourishment.’

A visibly irked Antiporda said there are mangroves in protected areas, and that it will not ‘be good to look at’—which the ‘white sand’ dumping was about: beautification.

“You cannot put it in the middle of baywalk area where it will destroy the landscape, hindi po magandang tignan. And at the same time, hindi po mabubuhay sa lugar na ito yung mangrove,” he said.

UP IB said they are willing to assist DENR in forming and implementing a science-based rehabilitation program for the heavily polluted bay, targeting the recovery of the bay’s biological functions and services by restoring and protecting key habitats, reducing pollution and managing invasive species.

“January 2019 was declared the official start of the Manila Bay rehabilitation program, which had three phases, namely cleanup/water quality improvement, rehabilitation and settlement and education and sustainment,” UP said on October 12.

The academic institution said the ‘white sand project’ did not address any of these and could instead be ‘even more detrimental’ to the existing biodiversity, as well as communities in the area.

They said the ‘white sand dumping’ also cost habitat reduction to migratory and resident waterbirds, in turn contributing to loss of opportunities.

“The recent effort of dumping dolomite sand on a reclaimed part of Manila Bay is not the best way of spending government money; a critical resource during the pandemic that could have been put to better use by spending for the needs of medical front-liners and the millions of our hungry fellow Filipinos,” it added

‘Wash in’, not ‘wash out’

Black sand mingled with the dumped crushed dolomite ‘white sand’ in the fringes of the shore.

Antiporda, however, said it was a lie that the white sand was not washed out. Instead, he made the clarification that the black sand was washed in.

“Puro kasinungalingan po iyong lumabas na nag-wash out po yung white sand natin. Ang nangyari po wash in, pumasok po iyong itim na buhangin at pumatong po sa puting dolomite,” he added.

This clarification did not escape the criticism of those who decried the project to be artificial and unsustainable.

‘Bayaran’, ‘dapat libre’

Not exactly a ‘paid hack’, but DENR got UP to do research as its client.

UP MSI Director Prof. Laura David said the state university has a mandate to teach, research and render public service.

She said their services are free, but other research expenses should be shouldered by “clients.”

“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,” the UP MSI said.

“Moreover, all of the UPMSI’s research and development activities are project-based, with very specific fund disbursement guidelines and limitations. The internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) funds of UPMSI are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory,” it added.

Many netizens agreed that research work could not expected to be done for free or out of pockets of the scientists, who are mostly not well paid in the country and have little opportunities. Others also said that they have even been self-funding research.

“Ang UP po sa buong pagkaalam natin ay libre dapat yan, ano po? Bakit kayo naniningil sa gobyerno? Matapos kayong pag-aralin ng taumbayan, pagkatapos kayo maging scholar ng taumbayan, sisipsipin niyo ang dugo ng taumbayan sa dami ng kinuha niyong pondo?” said Antiporda.

“Tapos ngayon, gumagawa kami ng maganda, kailangan magbayad kami sa inyo? Wag naman. Hindi niyo karapatan batikusin ito dahil bayaran kayo. Yun lang po ang masasabi ko sa UP. Uulitin ko, bayaran kayo,” he went on.

Calling for an audit

Antiporda also called for an audit on the UP Marine Science Institute.

“We are now calling the attention of the COA to conduct an audit against UP, especially UP Marine Science Institute, sa lahat po ng pondong ginastos namin sa kanila which is about half a billion pesos since 2016,” said the environment undersecretary.

David said they welcome his call to audit their projects with the DENR. She said it is expected of government offices to be audited anytime.

She also corrected the half billion claim of Antiporda, saying it is actually a grant of “P 364,073,909.40 for the last decade spanning 10 projects in collaboration with the DENR and a co-sponsorship support for a symposium.”

Others renewed calls for transparency on the Manila Bay ‘white sand project.’

The P389-million contract for the ‘nourishment’ project covers the extraction of garbage and other sediments and their disposal started last year, but the DENR and various agencies said only P 28 million was spent on the white sand dumping.

Many groups called for transparency after this clarification. Infrawatch Ph estimated the cost for sand alone go up as high as P164 million, eclipsing the P28 million claim. But with an estimated P1,000 per cubic meter of sand for 500 meters by 60 meters with 164,700 cubic meters of sand running short of the P389-million budget, the group said this begs the question where will the money go?

No infrastructure’

“Kalahating bilyon na puro lang po konsultasyon, wala pong infrastructure, walang lahat. Yan yung binayaran natin sa UP [experts] na yan,” Antiporda berated.

UP MSI, however, said there was no infrastructure involved in the projects they have with the DENR.

“The funds supported the costs of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities, to support for research assistants. These are the typical costs typically shouldered by the clients. The funds also supported capacity building of NGA and HEI personnel,” said David.

Many were critical of Antiporda’s verbal attacks against UP, scientists.

Others questioned Antiporda’s competence as one of the top government environment officials.

Antiporda was once the publisher of tabloid Remate and the president of the National Press Club.

He was appointed by Duterte to his current post in April 2018. He was a former member of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority board.

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