The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI), one of the seven academic institutes of the UP College of Science in Diliman, has been serving as the University’s coordinating base for marine research since its establishment as the Marine Sciences Center in 1974. Since its elevation to an Institute in 1985, the UPMSI has been offering graduate programs in marine biology, marine chemistry, physical oceanography, marine geology, and related disciplines, training some of the country’s top marine experts over the past decades.
In keeping with UP’s mandate to serve as a public service university, the UPMSI has been providing various forms of community and public service as well as scholarly and technical assistance to the government, the private sector and civil society. Some projects are aimed at rehabilitating seas and coastal sites in the country, including Manila Bay. Some of these seek to study and conserve the country’s lush marine biodiversity, such as the giant clams of the UPMSI’s Bolinao Marine Laboratory in Pangasinan, and the giant shipworms or tamilok in Sultan Kudarat. The UPMSI regularly conducts workshops, local and international conferences, and training courses. It also partners with coastal communities, people’s organizations, non-government organizations, local government units, and national government agencies in projects that directly address local and national needs, with funding from government, private groups or from international sources.
Some of the UPMSI’s initiatives have gained prominence in media. One of these is the exploration of marine life in the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise, with the UPMSI leading teams of scientists and researchers from various UP units and government agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Department of Agriculture and the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In addition, the UPMSI are also engaged in many other collaborations with the DENR, including: research into the resilience of fish, coral reefs, and other ecosystems; the development of a management system in key biodiversity areas; coastal land use planning and rehabilitation; and, studies on ocean transport and ecological connectivity. In fact, UPMSI scientists have been presenting the results of their investigations into the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise via the four-episode Philippine Seas: Webinar Series on the DENR BMB Facebook page.
In response to DENR Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda’s remarks during a recent press conference regarding updates on Manila Bay, the UPMSI affirms its continued commitment to make available to the government the services of its researchers, scientists and experts, including the DENR, as needed to further the country’s development. Antiporda’s remarks were made in reaction to the UPMSI’s September 30 official statement that the crushed dolomite sand would not help solve the root of the environmental problems in Manila Bay.
However, with regard to Antiporda’s comment on working with the UPMSI as long as the services are “free”, adding that “every time we consult them, we pay so much money that people don’t know” and pegging this amount at the “hundreds of millions”, the UPMSI would like to clarify that the Institute provides the scientific advice and technical inputs of its experts for free, in accordance with UP’s mandate as national university. However, some questions and problems cannot be addressed without conducting research in the field or laboratory experiments so as to come up with science-based answers or to develop local capabilities.
The costs of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities, to support for research assistants, should be, as they actually are shouldered by the clients, as the UPMSI is not a line agency in the government’s executive branch. Moreover, all of the UPMSI’s research and development activities are project-based, with very specific fund disbursement guidelines and limitations. The internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) funds of UPMSI are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory.
UPMSI Director Dr. Laura T. David said in a statement: “Recognizing the need and the limited funds available, the University was given General Appropriations Act funding for the first time in 46 years so that UPMSI could conduct necessary marine scientific research in Philippine waters. Hence, for as long as the science inquiries of the national government agencies fall within planned marine scientific research, only minimal additional funding will be needed.”
Director David reiterates that “UPMSI has had many productive collaborations with DENR, and we recognize DENR’s expertise in a wide variety of fields.”
For the sake of protecting the country’s marine ecology for future generations of Filipinos, the working partnership between the DENR and other government agencies and the UPMSI will continue for many years to come.