Sunday, June 23, 2024

Resignation of CHED execs puts P8-B high-tech R&D project under scrutiny

The purported resignation of a commissioner and director of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is threatening to blow up an ambitious P8-billion high-technology research and development project backed by Silicon Valley-based IT stalwart Diosdado “Dado” Banatao.

Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III is flanked by DTI sec. Greg Domingo and PhilDev chair Dado Banatao during the PhilDev Forum at the Peninsula Manila in October last year

The controversy started on Tuesday, Oct.2, when local broadsheet Manila Standard reported that CHED commissioner Nona Ricafort and director Carmina Alonzo resigned from their posts after they accused Department of Budget and Management secretary Florencio ?Butch? Abad and CHED chair Patricia Licuanan of railroading the ?anomalous? Philippine-California Advanced Research Institute (PCARI) project.

The appropriation for the scientific initiative was included in the 2012 national budget, with the CHED designated as the agency in charge of fund disbursement.

The newspaper said it got a copy of the resignation letters of Ricafort and Alonzo, who both complained that the multi-billion research project is irregular and does not have a legal basis.

The news report said the project was lopsided in favor of US since ?all inventions and discoveries to be made by the research team in the US would carry patents and intellectual property rights according to US laws with the Philippine government not having to own the patents.?

According to Licuanan, PCARI is a partnership between selected Philippine universities and the Universities of California at Berkeley and San Francisco.

The project is said to be patterned after many partnerships seen in neighboring countries such as those between the National University of Singapore and Duke University; or Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.

Under the program, two institutions will be formed: the Institute for Information Infrastructure Development which will focus on e-government and e-learning, and the Institute for Health, Innovation and Translational Medicine which will focus on advancing health care in the Philippines.

But Ricafort said the ?it [is] difficult to comprehend how to reconcile the magnitude of [the] collaboration (specifically the budget costing per individual project) to meet the level of perception of the Filipinos, especially the students and their parents, as appropriate answers to their current needs.?

Malacanang, however, said contrary to the report, Ricafort?s term of office had actually lapsed and that Pres. Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III did not renew her appointment papers.

“Her term of office ended. She was required to serve for two terms… she was not reappointed,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a media briefing on Thursday, Oct. 3.

With regard to Alonzo, Lacierda said Licuanan will be asked to explain the nature and circumstances of her departure.

Lacierda also said PCARI project is not P10 billion as alleged by Ricafort and Alonzo but only about P8 billion since it requires an appropriation of P1.763 billion each year for over a period of five years.

“Magandang proyekto ito na makakatulong sa ating mga scientists… I don’t know why she’s [Ricafort] making those allegations. She can’t be appointed for the third time,” he said.

Alonzo, for her part, said she was appalled that the huge sum was ?parked? with the CHED when the jurisdiction for such projects normally belongs to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), according to the Manila Standard report.

In an interview with Newsbytes.ph just after the budget was approved by Congress, top DOST officials also expressed their puzzlement as to why the research project was given to the CHED.

Information and Communications Technology Office (ICT Office) executive director Louis Casambre said while he is part of the steering committee of the initiative, this designation was only made known to him only after the project has been approved.

DOST assistant secretary Raymond Liboro, who is a trusted adjutant of DOST secretary Mario Montejo, said they were quite surprised that a big-ticket scientific endeavor was entrusted to the CHED rather than the science department. — with reports from PNA

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