Scientist group blasts lack of gov’t support for Diwata-1 engineers, PH scientists

Diwata-1, the Philippines' first microsatellite. (From the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines)Diwata-1, the Philippines’ first microsatellite. (From the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines)

“..As long as Filipino scientists and engineers are undervalued and mistreated, Filipino science and technology is doomed, and DOST might as well just send random overpriced bits of metal into space, and call it a microsatellite.”

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A group of people’s scientists lambasted what they called as the government’s “lackluster” appreciation of Filipino scientists, as expressed by two of the nine engineers who made the country’s first microsatellite, Diwata-1.

The Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) hailed the Filipino engineers who successfully launched into space the Philippine’s microsatellite in March, but condemned the “ill-treatment” they suffered for the whole year that they were working on the project.

One of them, Engineer Paolo Espiritu, expressed his grievance in his April 1 Facebook post about how he and eight others were tied up to a contract with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which only gave them scholarships for their masteral studies in exchange for working on the project. The post had since gone viral.

Yesterday, GMA News reported that another one of the engineers, Julian Oliveros had resigned over the weekend, citing “extremely difficult, back-breaking” working conditions. Oliveros also said that the team was forced to construct the microsatellite within a year, when it ordinarily takes three years to make.

Oliveros echoed Espiritu’s grievance that they had neglected their studies as they had to work long hours on the microsatellite.

“Engr. Paolo Espiritu’s Facebook account regarding their experience in Japan when they were sent to build the microsatellite and how the government turned a deaf ear to their demands regarding their status in the contract they signed, are reflections of the government’s lack of sympathy and disinterest to protect the welfare of scientists and engineers in the country,” said Feny Cosico, Agham secretary general in a statement.

Cosico lamented that the country needs scientists even more, amid the worsening effects of climate change, yet government continues to undervalue the sector.

“With the country experiencing a worst case of food crisis because of El Nino, we are in need of more scientists to provide a science-based approach to articulate natural and man-made disasters to the vulnerable communities and to institutionalize community-based climate resilient technologies helping the vulnerable sectors cope with the impact of extreme weather events such as El Nino, and La Nina,” she said.

Cosico cited estimates that there are only 80 to 90 scientists per one million population, which is far below the United Nations Education (Unesco) standard of 380 per million population. In 2014, some estimated 40,000 science workers have gone to work abroad, she added.

“Given the low number of scientists and engineers currently involved in research and development work, the government must ensure the security of tenure, decent living wages, and conducive working conditions to abate the continuous brain drain in the country. Without these, our science and technology (S&T) workers will continue to seek better opportunities abroad or in other career fields,” said Cosico.

The DOST, in a statement in response to Espiritu, said the return-service obligation is “in accordance with existing laws and policies and are clearly stated in the contracts signed by the engineers.” It added that they will “continue to explore equitable terms” within such laws.

The agency also denied allegations that DOST officials scrimped on the engineers while they come and go to Japan and dined on “fancy food.” The statement also said that the Diwata-1 engineers receive stipend 35 percent higher than other scholars.

The Diwata-1 was launched on March 23. The project is in collaboration with the Tohoku and Hokkaido universities in Japan. The three-year program is worth P841 million ($18.2 million) also involves the construction of a second microsat, Diwata-2, and the ground station called the Philippine Earth Data Resources Observation (Pedro).

In his Facebook post, Espiritu decried how Diwata-1’s historic launch is spoiled by government’s lack of support to those who constructed it: “..As long as Filipino scientists and engineers are undervalued and mistreated, Filipino science and technology is doomed, and DOST might as well just send random overpriced bits of metal into space, and call it a microsatellite.”

Agham stressed how scientists could help propel the country’s economic development under national industrialization.

“It is valuable for the country to develop our own space agency, but it should be pursued in the context of national industrialization where we give top priority for our local scientist to develop and manage the country’s space program. It should be coupled with building our local industries geared towards addressing the country’s domestic needs,” added Cosico. (http://bulatlat.com)

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