DIWATA-I Engineers Angry At DOST
Two engineers from the DIWATA-I space satellite program have gone to social media to air their grievances against the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for allegedly not giving them full credit as well as compensation in their part for the satellite.
UP-Diliman BS Electronics and Communications Engineering graduate Paolo Espiritu wrote a, now-viral, post telling all in excruciating detail the hardships that Filipino engineers went through just in order to finish the satellite in one year. The speed of the construction of the DIWATA-I was praised because it only took under a year to finish compared to the average time of four or five years.
Espiritu belabored: "It all started in 2014, when we were invited to work on the project. We have just finished our engineering degrees then, and naturally we were all excited to build the Philippines’ first microsatellite. But upon receiving the contracts, all of us were confused as to exactly what our involvement in the project is. All (that) the contract entailed was for us to receive a scholarship to study Aerospace Engineering in exchange for years of return service."
Based from the post, Espiritu says that officially, they were not part of the project and instead were given a "scholarship" to study Aerospace Engineering. In exchange for that scholarship, they would work in the satellite project without pay.
"On paper, we were just students. On paper, we weren’t part of the project. On paper, we were not engineers,", said Espiritu.
Before they signed the contract, they went directly to the DOST in order to clarify why they were only being given a "scholarship", that entailed working with no pay at all, as well as not being considered as engineers for the project. According to Espiritu, the DOST brushed it off and simply told him to "sign in good faith the contract" and were vaguely "promised to be taken care of" when they fly to Japan.
"We were given a promise — a promise that a more suitable contract will be made, stating our clear involvement and responsibilities for the project, and most importantly, our rights as engineers. In their words, ‘take it in good faith, that you will be taken care of’. As we had high respect and trust for DOST and the leaders of the project, we agreed to sign the papers, thinking that this mission of building the satellite is above any of us," Espiritu continued. All their pleas fell on deaf ears as from the moment they started their project until the launch of the satellite, they were still techinically "students" in a "scholarship" and not paid.
"They call us ‘students’, yet normal students go in at 9 a.m., and leave at 5 p.m. Normal students attend class all the time. Normal students are almost finished on their individual thesis projects. Normal students have personal time on the weekends. Normal students enjoy holidays. But no. We are not just students. We go in at 9 a.m., and leave at 1 a.m." slammed Espiritu.
"Most of the days, we have no choice but to skip our classes to work on the microsatellite. We have no chance to work on our thesis projects. We go the lab on Saturdays. We go to the lab on Sundays. We go to the lab on holidays. We go to the lab during Christmas. So no. We are not just students," he added.
Espiritu is angry at DOST officials for being credited in having an official part in the project, despite these officials not directly involved in the actual creation and research.
"It just really baffles me, how DOST can afford all these visits, the airfare, the accommodation, and the fancy food, but when it comes to the engineers, merely staying in Japan to work on the microsatellite is taken against them, with the 7 year service bond (3 more added to the original 4). This PHL-MICROSAT project is a billion-peso project, and despite being an engineering project, the engineers aren’t included in the project," he said.
Espritu's post has been shared over 9, 500 times already.
Forced to sign unfavorable conditions
Fellow DIWATA-I engineer, Julian Marvick Fua Oliveros, backed Espiritu's post. He said that they were led to sign contracts "unfavorable" to them. Despite trying to back out three times, they were assured with promises that their contracts will be renegotiated. With trust that the officials would keep their word, they signed. However, none of the promises bore fruit.
"At one point, we tried backing out three times, yet they all came back to us with promises of a better contract that was never done. In good faith, innocent as we were, we signed the contracts, having complete trust on them and looked up to them with respect," said Oliveros. He added that doing the microsatellite was “extremely difficult and back-breaking” because of the one year completion time. The engineers had no luxury to study or make plans on their own. "It was all work, work, work," he added.
Despite the supposed ill treatment they received, the team persevered and finished Diwata-1 for the country.
"We were working, not studying. Yet we did not quit, not because of the imaginary contract, but because this is hope for the Filipino people for the country," said Oliveros.
DOST says engineers well compensated
In response to the viral Facebook post, the DOST said that the engineers were justly compensated in the program aside from the full scholarship in Japanese universities. The scholarships would enable the engineers to gain their master's degree through Japan's universities while at the same time gaining experience in the DIWATA-I project.
"As scholars, the Diwata-1 engineers in fact receive stipends 35% higher compared to what a Monbusho scholarship provides. On top of that they also get additional compensation for their work in the development of the microsatellite," the statement read. The DOST noted that it does not find the term "student" derogatory.
In response to the obligation for return service, the said service was in fact an essential obligation for all government-funded scholarships.
"DOST takes this opportunity to recognize the contributions of its scholars in nation building through science, technology and innovation,” the statement read.
The DIWATA-I microsatellite was launched last March 23, 2016 and reached the International Space Station on March 26.
The microsatellite is touted for various applications such as imaging of the country's land and water resources, studying the weather patterns, as well as agricultural productivity for farmers, and disaster risk reduction and response.