Int'l research project in limbo, not in CHED's 2015 budget

MANILA, Philippines – After "reaching an impasse" two years into what was supposed to be a 5-year research project in partnership with American universities, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) no longer included it in its proposed budget for 2015, putting the project in limbo.

The Philippine-California Advance Research Institute (PCARI) project was given funding through CHED in 2013 and 2014, but the science department had not given a go signal to any of the proposed undertakings under the project. In addition, a former CHED official made public some allegations that corruption attended the project.

"I am sorry to report that after two budget [allocations] for 2013 and 2014, PCARI has not really started on the actual projects," CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said during the House of Representatatives' hearing on the commission's budget on Tuesday, August 26.

CHED’s proposed 2015 budget of P3.56 billion ($81.30 million)* includes two major projects, down from 3 this year: the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) study grant program and the Medium-Term Information and Communications Technology Harmonization Initiative (MITHI).

The PCARI is a government-funded 5-year project under CHED that taps into the expertise of foreign universities – the University of California (UC) Berkeley and the UC San Francisco – to develop high-end research capabilities of Filipino scientists and researchers.

The General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2013 and 2014 earmarked an annual P1.763-billion ($40.27 million) appropriation for PCARI, a project that became controversial in 2013 after former CHED Commissioner Nona Ricafort accused the project as "anomalous."

About 25 translational medicine and information infrastructure development research projects have already been selected, but to date none of these have been funded, according to PCARI project manager William Padolina.

Because of this, the project will get zero allocation for 2015. Licuanan explained CHED is “just being reasonable” since negotiations are still ongoing.

Decision needed soon

"At the moment, [PCARI] is still awaiting evaluation by the Department of Science and Technology [DOST]. We hope that we will be able to reach some kind of agreement soon," Licuanan said.

A 2013 GAA provision requires the joint evaluation and approval of the proposals by CHED, DOST, and the Department of Health (DOH).

Padolina said that when a steering committee for the project was being formed, the DOST already “refused” to participate, citing conflict of interest.

"I think they feel 'kaya natin ‘to' [we can do this ourselves.] In other words, this is something we don’t need American partners for. In our approach, we have seen that well, that really helps, you get the top universities to partner with us, you can really jumpstart the capacity of our schools," Licuanan explained.

The CHED, DOST, and DOH are set to meet within the month, and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr has been asked by Licuanan to mediate if necessary.

Despite the setbacks, Licuanan is confident the PCARI “can still be done,” although there will be a lot of catching up to do.

Without a funding for the project under the 2015 budget, the commission can still use its 2013 and 2014 PCARI allocations until 2015.

CHED’s budget "significantly" decreased from P8.01 billion ($183 million) in 2014 to the proposed P3.56 billion ($81.30 million) in 2015 mainly because of PCARI and the Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAP). 

The budget for StuFAP was also cut in half from P4.66 billion ($106.57 million) in 2014 to P2.01 billion ($45.94 million) in 2015. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P43.7601

Man with no budget image from Shutterstock

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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