The Archaeological Studies Program: Violating Archaeological Ethics

By Elson T. Elizaga. Published January 24, 2011. Revised February 5, 2011. Updated July 16, 2017.

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To make this article independent from previous pages, some bits of information have to be repeated: The director of the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) of the University of the Philippines is Victor Paz. He has a master's and doctorate degree in archaeology at the University of Cambridge (UC).

In November 2004, an ASP team led by Paz came to Cagayan de Oro to conduct research and excavation of the Huluga archaeological site and two other areas. They were hired by mayor Vicente Yap Emano, who had been widely criticized for damaging Huluga to give way to a bridge project. Their group did not coordinate with archaeologist Dr. Erlinda Burton of Xavier University and other stakeholders in Cagayan de Oro.

In my article published in Mindanao Goldstar Daily, I quoted Burton, who said that Paz and his team members violated archaeological code of ethics because they ignored a local archaeologist. Asked to comment on this remark, an archaeologist of ASP told journalists during a press conference: "We don't follow any code of ethics. We just follow the law of the land." This statement was aired by the defunct DxJR, the radio station of Cagayan Capitol College.

The remark is queer because the Department of Archaeology of UC has contrary teachings. It does not only have a policy on ethics, but also suggests that other ethical standards be considered:

Researchers may wish to consult the ethical guidelines and codes of conduct of different professional bodies (e.g. BABAO, the Society for American Archaeology, the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK, the Institute of Field Archaeologists, European Association of Archaeologists) to ensure that they have considered all ethical aspects to their work.

The UC research ethics does not state that visiting archaeologists should work with local archaeologists. But it requires that

Research should be designed, reviewed and undertaken in a way that ensures academic independence, integrity and quality.

The article of UC on good research practice is silent on the issue about archaeologists receiving money from sponsors who have damaged archaeological sites. But it presents the following advice:

Researchers should also declare and manage any real or potential conflicts of interest, both financial and professional ... Areas of potential conflict might include:

  • Where researchers have an existing or potential financial interest in the outcome of the research
  • Where there is a private or private practice benefit significantly dependent upon the outcome of the research
  • Where the researcher's professional or personal gain arising from the research may be more than might be usual for research.

Moreover, the article states in the section "10.Dissemination and publication of results":

Researchers should make every effort to make sure research is peer reviewed prior to it being published, publicised or disseminated.

The Ethics of Archaeology, published by Cambridge UniversityUC is also the publisher of "The Ethics of Archaeology: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice."

Considering these concerns of UC, what was the condition and behavior of Paz and his team in Cagayan de Oro during their claimed research?

The ASP team led by Paz was given P450,000 and additional money for a 10-day research excavation: P450,000 for five senior archaeologists, P100,000 plus to two junior archaeologists, P66,000 for airfare of 11 persons, P84,000 per diem of seven people for 15 days. The amount is exceedingly high: In 2003, Leee Anthony Neri, a member of the ASP team, told me that only P80,000 was needed for a two-week excavation in Huluga. [Leee Anthony Neri is often misspelled as Lee Neri in news articles.]

This amount was not revealed by the team during the press conference. It is not mentioned in their report. I had to get the data from City Hall. Paz and other members of the team also didn't reveal that the P450,000 came from the City Planning and Development Office, where Neri's mother was an employee -- a conflict of interest. They also didn't say that the money came from the poverty reduction fund.

Moreover, Paz did not give a copy of the report to Burton before it was published. Burton is an expert in ancient settlements. Her thesis in Brigham Young University is A Study of the Prehistoric Settlement Patterns of the Provo Area in Central Utah, USA. She participated in the Archaeological Field Training in the Calico Archaeological Project, Yermo, California, under the directorship of Louis S. B. Leakey. She supervised an archaeological project for the National Museum in the Cagayan Valley Paleolithic Site, and excavated early metal site in Lanna, Solana, Cagayan Valley. In June 15, 2005, she was a recipient of the Datu Salangsang award of City Hall. Datu Salangsang was the leader of the Himologan community described by Spanish missionaries in 1622.

Perhaps, the most disturbing act of Paz and his ASP team was their decision to ignore the artifacts, fossils, and midden found by the Heritage Conservation Advocates in Huluga. This neglect makes their research not scientific at all. Their conclusion that Huluga is just "a camp-like area" and not a settlement site gives way to suspicion that Paz and his team were paid by Emano simply to downgrade the value of Huluga, so that Emano's cultural offense would appear insignificant. The result is political propaganda, not science.

Overall, Paz's leadership has probably not affected the reputation of UC, because he does not work for UC. But what about the quality of archaeology students in the University of the Philippines? Are they taught that working for an archaeological site destroyer is ok as long as the price is right? Is archaeology separated from anthropology as some ASP teachers claim? Why did a team of ASP graduates help sell a sacred mountain in Zamboanga to Canadian miners? Is Philippine heritage safe because of the activities of ASP? Black square indicates end of article.

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