Earlier today I attended a biodiversity workshop which had in mind a system where Filipino scientists from different parts of the country, would be able to have their research documented and shared with other experts both in the country and abroad.
Apparently, while most of our scientists generate quality research work and studies, the problem was the availability and accessibility of these studies. Worse, some of them said, most of the research on Philippine biodiversity that can be found abroad are only the works of foreign researchers who visited the country. Rarely are works made by Filipinos known and acknowledged as authoritative research and studies.
While the exchange of studies, research work, and ideas fascinated me, what struck me was the talk given by field botanist Ulysses Ferreras. Ferreras was sharing his experiences in the conservation of indigenous plants and trees and the reforestation efforts in the country. In the middle of his talk, he jokingly said that there are now only a handful of field botanists, or more specifically taxonomists, in the country.
One of the country’s foremost authorities in taxonomy and Ferreras’ mentor and friend, Leonard Co, was among what he called as these endangered species. Co and his companions Julius Borromeo and Sofronio Cortez, were killed by government soldiers while conducting field studies on trees in Kananga, Leyte. Their studies were supposed to be in line with a forest restoration project which would be based on indigenous trees. The investigation into the killing of Co and his companions continue. But the military claims that they were “collateral damage” in an encounter with communist rebels.
Another Philippine authority on taxonomy, and also Ferreras’ mentor and friend, as well as Co’s best friend, was Dr. Dan Lagunzad. Unlike Co however, Lagunzad died from cancer of the liver. But as Dr. Perry Ong of the University of the Philippines Insitute of Biology said, Co and Lagunzad’s lives were entwined. And such was the connection between the two giants of Philippine botany that when Co was killed on November 15, 2010, Lagunzad also died the next day.
The loss of these two renowned botanists have just been too much to the scientific community in the country. At present, Ferreras claims, there are probably less than five field botanists in the country. And to make matters worse he said, there is no Botany degree in most of the country’s universities (even in the University of the Philippines). Botany as a subject he added, is not even taught as an elective in the general curriculum of the country’s universities. It it no wonder then the interest of the youth in this special field in science is rarely invigorated or even attracted.
I am not a science major. I am a man of the arts. And although I have this intense fascination for certains fields like Physics and Chemistry, it was not enough to convince me to dedicate my years in college to the study of life in all its forms and characteristics. However, it is my fascination for beauty around us, and my years spent in covering the efforts, as well as the achievements of our country’s scientists, which have enamored me to the sciences. And it is my concern for the well-being of future generations which compel me to write about the struggles of our men and women of science, hoping that my writings may help attract more people to the difficulties our scientists face.
Our scientists, more specifically our botanists, are as endangered as most of our country’s species. And they have become that way due to the lack of interest of the youth to go into the field, the lack of funding for research, and even the recklessness of our men in uniform. While we may not directly see the impact of the efforts of our botanists in our daily lives, I think it would at least help if we are able to appreciate their work and take pride in their accomplishments. They are, and should be, as much a source of pride of our country and our people, as our pop icons and celebrity athletes. They are our superstars of science!
But we must not forget that as the months drag on, the work of these endangered scientists are crucial to our survival as a country and as a people. In this age of climate change and aggravation, the efforts in reforestation, adaptation, and mitigation led by these endangered species, will be essential to preparing the country for what is to come. May they not disappear despite the threats they face.