UP science researchers demand payment of up to 1.5 years in delayed salaries

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Members of the Alliance of STEM Graduate Students and Workers - UP Diliman bare the statistics behind salary delays among their peers

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 11) — Scientific research and development has been a lagging sector in the country, but this apparent neglect has bled through to the detriment of professional researchers.

Tin Bantay, a researcher at the University of the Philippines Diliman, last received a salary for the work she rendered in April. That payment was released in June, and she has been unpaid since then.

This was the experience of her fellow researchers working for a project. She was told upon signing up for the position that her wages will be initially delayed for three months, but that eventually became the norm.

The yearly renewal of the project she is working on under the Marine Science Institute also meant that her salary will be delayed again as they have to refile all the paperwork to get back on the payroll. "Three months or so 'yung usual, pero ngayon umabot sa eight months," she told CNN Philippines in an interview.

This has been the routine since January 2018 when she joined her team, forcing her to adjust her spending habits with unstable cash flow.

The unpredictable payment scheme ate into the emergency fund that she used to maintain.

"Unti-unti siyang nauubos dahil doon sa mga pakonti-konting delays [My savings slowly depleted because of these delays]. I actually prepared by trying to minimize my living cost," she recounted.

"Solo apartment 'yung tinitirahan ko before January 2018, pero lumipat ako to a shared house [I used to afford a solo apartment before January 2018, but since then, I have had to transfer to a shared house]."

With the latest delay, Bantay was forced to resort to a loan to get by. She also went back to living with her parents during the pandemic, but her share in the apartment lease continues.

This is the fate of nearly a hundred researchers working for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics or STEM programs and projects of UP – home to the country's biggest research hubs like the National Institute of Physics, the National Institute of Geological Sciences, and the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

17 months delayed

Through a Facebook page, the Alliance of STEM Graduate Students and Workers – UP Diliman called upon the school administration to release their salaries, with some still unpaid for up to 17 months of service.

Research assistants, project research personnel, and postgraduate students comprise the alliance, which was formed in October as workers sought relief. Bulk of the researchers are employed by the College of Science, with 60 of them receiving funding from the DOST for various research projects.

The group mounted a survey among their peers and found that 92 of the 94 respondents did not receive their salaries on time in the last two years. The average lag time in payments was four months in 2019 and seven months in 2020, revealing that the problem has been perennial even before COVID-19 disruptions.

Four workers have been waiting to be paid for over a year, according to the October survey.

Tara Abrina, a UP research associate and a member of the alliance, said she was relatively lucky to suffer just a one or two-month delay at a time.

This is not the first time when STEM-related initiatives have been called out for delayed releases of benefits.

Just recently, graduate scholars of the Department of Science and Technology's Science Education Institute demanded the release of their monthly stipends, as new students have not received theirs yet even as the first semester is about to end. Classes opened in September.

This prompted DOST to review its scholarship policies, including the earlier decision not to release stipends to students after UP decided it will cut short the semester to just four months.

Last week, the Alliance of STEM Workers wrote to UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo –– a mathematics professor and former Vice Chancellor for Research and Development –– to call for the disbursement of the researchers' salaries. They also sought for a dialogue with representatives of the UP administration to propose concrete steps to address the rampant delays, but this has not been granted so far.

Both Bantay and Abrina said bureaucracy within the University stand in the way of salary releases.

CNN Philippines has reached out to Nemenzo's office for comment, but has yet to receive a response.


Abrina turned to statistics to illustrate the sector's plight. "0.1% ng GDP lang 'yung investment natin sa R&D pero ang recommended ay 1% [We only invest 0.1% of GDP on R&D when the recommended share is at least 1%]," she explained, adding that the country also lacks STEM workers.

The Philippines has yet to invest significantly on research and development to even try to catch up with regional peers –– a problem long lamented by no less than DOST Secretary Fortunato Dela Peña himself.

READ: Does the Philippines value scientific research?

Researchers have become more and more demoralized.

"The Manila Bay dolomite issue shows how the government perceives scientific opinion," Abrina added.

In October, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda called UP researchers "bayaran" or paid to attack the government for opposing the dolomite dumping project at the small part of the Manila Bay coastline – a cosmetic rather than sustainable solution to clean up the body of water.

The irony is not lost on these STEM workers, who have been forced to make ends meet in the middle of the pandemic as they wait for money that's rightfully theirs.