By Frances Josephine Espeso
“My job as a journalist is to tell the story, not to involve myself personally with the issue,” University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman journalism graduate Krixia Subingsubing said in response to the eUP Project Team’s statement on their investigative thesis about the information technology (IT) project.
Together with fellow journalism fresh graduate Ronn Bautista, Subingsubing chose the eUP Project as the subject for their undergraduate thesis accomplished June 2016 under the guidance of award-winning investigative journalist Yvonne Chua.
The eUP Project, an IT initiative of current UP President Alfredo E. Pascual, is a system-wide information integration project.
In light of system-wide student protests and backlash towards eUP and the numerous glitches of the Student Academic Information System (SAIS), one of its five core information systems, during the UP Los Baños registration period, Bautista had released their investigative report on the eUP Project on Facebook, Aug. 6.
The report, hailed as Best Thesis by the UP Department of Journalism, had prompted a statement from the eUP Project Team, calling it “poorly conducted research work” and “a witch hunt disguised as an academic endeavor.”
“I expected the backlash from the eUP Team,” Subingsubing said, having been forewarned by their adviser.
While the thesis itself would be enough to rebutt several points of the eUP Project Team’s statement, Subingsubing wanted to reiterate, however, that “brand references in the bidding documents are not allowed, no exceptions,” citing Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) authorities and the law.
In their statement, the eUP Project Team had said “reference to brand names is a common practice in government procurement, particularly for technical items including ICT hardware and software.”
They also claimed that it was done due to the “difficulty in specifying quality and functionality in generic terms,” adding that there are numerous examples of purchase documents on the GPPB website that include brand names for clarity of the specified requirement.
However, Subingsubing said institutions are not aware of the 2009 revision of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Republic Act 9184, also known as the Government Procurement Reform Act, which overrides the manual initially allowing brand references.
Bautista and Subingsubing mentioned this in their thesis where GPPB lawyer Diane Borja said the mistake and the root cause of the problem is borne out of ignorance of the new IRR.
“UP is the vanguard of good governance, remember, so it should stand above the policy, not fall behind it,” Subingsubing said.
On the other hand, the eUP team had also criticized the timing of the Bautista and Subingsubing’s study, saying the proper time to evaluate the project would have been after completion of implementation, when the system has stabilized and its good and bad impacts are already apparent.
“Studying the project during its implementation is just as valid as studying it postmortem,” Subingsubing stated.
“Paano mo madidiagnose yung mga problema if you don’t want to look at the issues midway through the project?” she added.
Besides rebutting the above mentioned points, however, Subingsubing said that they had decided to stick with what Chua had advised: “let the story speak for itself.”
The Journalism professor and VERA Files trustee had been very supportive during the undertaking, Subingsubing added. “[Si Ma’am Chua] yung nag-push samin na i-pursue yung procurement side nung thesis actually, at binigyan niya kami ng independent sources to corroborate the story.”
The endeavour had not been without its difficulties, especially with a then-lack of a Freedom of Information act or even an executive order, which would have compelled UP offices to release pertinent documents.
She also said that initially, President Pascual did not want to provide them with financial breakdowns.
Before obtaining the documents, it took them multiple meetings with the UP President to convince him that it was needed in the report, adding that they would remind Pascual that the thesis’ prerogative is to assess eUP’s current efficiency and effectivity.
“Sure, the modernization of the ICT infra of the university is a laudable concept, but to get there, you have to know what it is exactly that’s happening on the ground so that you can address it, so you can achieve your goals for the project,” Subingsubing said.
Meanwhile, UP Department of Journalism chair Dr. Rachel E. Khan released a statement to Tinig ng Plaridel in response to that of the eUP Project Team’s.
“The Journalism department has a high regard for academic freedom and therefore, students are given the freedom to choose their thesis topics for as long as it is viable and newsworthy. Being a National University and a public entity, events and issues that involve the University of the Philippines are deemed newsworthy. Therefore, students are not prevented from covering issues about their alma mater.
“The Journalism faculty makes sure that students undergo the rigors of the profession in undertaking investigative reporting by guiding their efforts in making sure that the report is based on fact and can be backed up by evidence. This is the case for the thesis on e-UP written by Ronn Bautista and Krixia Subingsubing, which was recognized for its rigor in research and chosen as best thesis. It was also awarded by judges from outside the UP community during the recent Philippine Journalism Research Conference.
“At the same time, we recognize that the thesis may be taken out of context if only excerpts are read. One needs to read the ‘entire’ investigative piece to see that the report is based on gathered data and not just on opinion. However, when excerpts are placed in FB posts, the information provided in that chosen excerpt may be biased or taken out of context.”
The release of the study on social media has made it available for public consumption, and Subingsubing encouraged everyone to take part in the discourse.
“I’d like to encourage everyone to read the thesis–challenge it, if they must–but we must do it within the bounds of genuine academic discourse,” Subingsubing said.
“As Ronn would say it, to dismiss it as poor scholarship is to be ignorant of the quality and nature of the voices involved in the study,” she added.
(Photo by Mr. Israel Buenafe of the UP College of Mass Communication, grabbed from the UP CMC Facebook page.)