Robredo hits Palace, Antiporda for remarks vs. experts
In this Oct. 9, 2020 photo, DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda inspects the bay’s shoreline in Manila, covered with artificial white sand.
The STAR/Edd Gumban
Robredo hits Palace, Antiporda for remarks vs. experts
Christian Deiparine ( - October 18, 2020 - 1:37pm

MANILA, Philippines—Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday threw her support behind the country's experts and scientists after government said they should not publicize their quarantine recommendations, as well as being called "bayaran" by an environment official. 

The week saw Malacañang and Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda drawing flak over their separate remarks hurled at members of the scientific community.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had told the OCTA Research group to relay their observations privately to government instead of making them public. 

Roque said this was to avoid preempting President Rodrigo Duterte from making decisions on the COVID-19 quarantine status in various parts of the country. 

In her weekly radio show, Robredo questioned the Palace's move, saying the group's aim is only to help in the Philippines' virus response. 

"'Di ba nga yung research dapat nalalaman nga ng tao kasi public data naman?" she said. "Ang nakikita ko lang na dahilan kung bakit ililihin [ay] yung pagde-desisyon hindi nakasunod sa datos."

(Isn't research supposed to be made available to all since it is public data? The only reason I see on why it has to be made private is if decision making will not follow from data.)

The OCTA Research, composed of experts from the University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas, had since bucked the government's plea, as they vow to continue releasing their monitoring of the country's COVID-19 situation.

A member of the group, Prof. Guido David, earlier told CNN Philippines this week in an interview that they are not paid by government for the efforts and it is only a form of public service. 

UP Marine Science 'undeserving' of Antiporda's rant 

Antiporda had accused the UP Marine Science Institute that they were charging the agency of half a billion pesos in consultation fees. 

It came after the group's opposition of the DENR's dolomite sand project in Manila Bay, saying it will not help solve its environmental problems. 

Sought for comment, Robredo said the official's remarks were uncalled for and should serve as a lesson to those in government and to the public. 

"Hindi dine-deserve nung grupo 'yung pambabastos na ginawa sa kanila," she said. "Mahirap na ['yun] bawiin. Sana hindi ganito lalong lalo na kasi public official 'yung nagsabi."

(The group did not deserve this bad treatment. That will be hard to take back. We hope that this will not be the case the next time, more importantly that it came from a public official.)

Antiporda had since apologized for his remarks, but it did not spare him from calls to resign. 

"The DENR needs a spokesperson who, instead of antagonizing homegrown scientists, articulately expresses and explains the department’s goals and policies," UP's geographic society said in a statement. 

Robredo said the agency's "beach nourishment" project could have gone to programs related to responding to the COVID-19 crisis. 

"Okay lang sanang gawin in the midst of the pandemic kung marami tayong pera," she said. "Pero kung wala nga tayong pera, marami tayong kailangan gastusan eh hindi natin napaggagastusan tapos inuna ito, ano 'yung mensahe sa tao?"

(This would have been okay even during the pandemic if we have a lot of funds. But if we don't have the money, we have a lot to pay for and we can't pay for them, prioritizing this sends the wrong message.)

The Philippines has 354,338 coronavirus infections as of Saturday, October 19, with deaths now at 6,603 with recoveries are at 295,312. 

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