Youth Rep Urges Congress to Investigate Anomalous P10-B CHED-PCARI Project

The following is a repost from the Kabataan Partylist of the Philippines web site, 18 October 2013:

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon has filed a resolution urging the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education to conduct an investigation on the alleged anomalies hounding the P10-billion Philippine-California Advance Research Institutes (PCARI) project which is being implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

House Resolution 386 calls for a comprehensive congressional review of the PCARI, following allegations of corruption and various anomalies that involve high-ranking CHED officials and partly led to the resignation of two CHED commissioners and a CHED director.

“The P10-billion PCARI project is riddled with anomalies and legal infirmities. The way its implementation is designed – wherein foreign institutions pre-selected by PCARI focal persons can access large chunks of public funds without the benefit of a public bidding – makes the project highly vulnerable to corruption. A comprehensive congressional review is thus in order,” Ridon said.

According to CHED, the PCARI project is a five-year research initiative that links various Philippine higher education institutions to “elite research universities in other countries to undertake collaborative world-class research, development and innovation projects involving leading-edge technologies.”

With an initial P1.76 billion budget provided by the 2013 General Appropriations Act, the PCARI project begun this year and has initially linked five Philippine HEIs – which include the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Mapua Institute of Technology, and Mindanao State University – with two leading universities in California, USA – the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of California Berkeley (UCB).

The PCARI project has two priority research areas: (1) Information Infrastructure Development; and (2) Health Innovation and Translational Medicine. CHED has initially identified 13 PCARI research projects for the first priority research area and 12 research projects for the latter.

Anomalous project

Recently, several issues regarding the implementation of the PCARI project surfaced following the resignation of CHED Commissioners Nona Ricafort and Nenalyn Defensor, and CHED Administrative and Finance Services Director Carmina Alonzo.

One of the issues raised by Ricafort, Defensor and Alonzo involve the choice of foreign partner universities.

In her resignation letter dated September 17, 2013, Alonzo said, “While the GAA explicitly named PCARI for this project, the procurement of the engagement for collaboration is template or tailored-fit to the University of California Berkeley which is accordingly contrary to the bidding process. In one meeting with our procurement consultant, it was even emphasized that in the posting for such project, the same should be available to other universities in USA. But to the undersigned’s observation, the project is pre-destined to be collaborated only with the University of California Berkeley.”

Also, documents reveal that there exists a conflict of interest in the membership of the PCARI steering committee, which is led by Mr. Diosdado Banatao, the main proponent and facilitator of the project.

Mr. Banatao is currently serving as the Chairman of the University of California Berkeley – College of Engineering Advisory Board and is at the same time a member of the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Executive Advisory Council. Meanwhile, Mr. Banatao’s wife Maria Cariaga Banatao, who is also part of the PCARI steering committee, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of California Berkeley Foundation.

“It should be noted that the PCARI steering committee is the one that endorses for implementation all ‘PCARI project policies, priorities, thrusts and projects,’ which means that the said committee has a direct hand in the choice of which projects and which researchers will be funded under PCARI,” Ridon said in HR 386.

Ridon also noted that the Department of Budget and Management has even allowed PCARI funds to be awarded to private institutions, foundations or persons that will be able to successfully pass the screening process of the PCARI steering committee.

“This would mean that under PCARI, it is not the partner foreign universities which will be paid but the individual researchers chosen by PCARI focal persons. Such action lacks legal basis, and is vulnerable to corruption, as public funds can be directly funnelled to select individuals,” Ridon said.

Philippines funding US research?

The youth solon also noted that this is the first time that the United States will be the recipient of a Philippine grant on research, unlike past collaborative researches wherein the Philippines is on the receiving end.

“It is important to note that CHED stated explicitly that “no counterpart funds” will be provided by the US for the said project,” Ridon said. Over a span of five years, the PCARI project will be given a total of P10 billion, all sourced from public funds.

“While the Philippine government will be funding the PCARI project in full, the intellectual property rights of resulting outputs will be jointly owned by the Philippine researchers and their foreign counterparts due to the collaborative nature of the PCARI project,” the youth solon said.

“The PCARI project may indeed have noble goals that would greatly uplift the state of science and technology in the country. However, considering the legal ambiguities and infirmities, the issues hounding the project, and the large amount of funds that will be appropriated for it, a comprehensive congressional review is in order,” Ridon concluded.###