Aftermaths from natural disasters are common in the Philippines. Everywhere there are debris from structures and foliage. Evacuation sites pop up like mushrooms. Relief goods pour in. You would think an aftermath from a war would just be the same.

After meeting with contact persons and accomplishing the paperwork for our conduct pass, our group made it to our first evacuation center at Iligan City. We were met by loud claps from children and adults alike. Asked about this, our military escort responded that it was how they greet new people coming in.

I would have asked if they were really glad to see us but I got immediately swarmed by kids looking at the camera I was holding. The rest of the team went on to meet with DSWD personnel and I stayed behind as I tried to capture the smiling faces on these kids. Clicking away, I thought, would I ever see these faces again?

After we visited another evacuation site in Iligan, our host, Mindanao State University (MSU), drove us through the one and a half hour ride to Marawi. We passed by several evacuation sites along the way. Nearing the city, we were all very eager to get off the van and take photos of the houses and establishments marked either “cleared” or “ISIS basecamp” by the AFP/PNP.

Our MSU police escort however relayed instructions that we are not at anytime allowed to dismount the vehicle until we are at MSU. We took the shots inside the van as our request to slow down the vehicle a bit was granted. We were far from ground zero but it certainly felt like we were in the war-zone already. Garbage was everywhere as we passed by numerous checkpoints. A few stores were already open but I thought, “Will the rest be opened soon or will they be closed for good--a new life at a new place?”

Although untouched, MSU grieves for the fellow Maraoans affected by the war. Stories of how they fled the city were shared by a number of faculty members who graciously made our stay comfortable. Our MSU police escort led us to an unfinished building where we could see the city. Our group cringed as he narrated how everyday there were like fireworks coupled with earthquake-like tremors.

I also noticed that they were all eager to tell their own tales every chance they would get. I thought, who wouldn’t after surviving a war?

Even before we got to Marawi, we were told that we were not allowed to enter “ground zero.” So we were very surprised when on the way back to Iligan, we were given a chance to get nearer and catch a closer glimpse of the city.

It took me maybe a full minute to scan the place near Rapitan Bridge before I started clicking away. It was practically a ghost town if not for the presence of the military at the checkpoint. Houses were abandoned and those beyond the bridge were either burned or bullet-stricken. I thought, this is surreal.

The aftermaths from natural disasters are not the same as aftermaths from war.

This time, we did this to our fellow brothers and sisters. The aftermath is a reminder that we did this to ourselves. ■


Expedition to the Saw-Toothed Mountain

All our bags were packed and we were definitely ready to go!

This trip was not like our usual fieldwork. Led by some of the youngest in our pool of researchers, the team bravely travelled the deep seas between Batangas and Romblon to reach an island called Sibuyan.

Carrying all our bags, field equipment, and sacks of canned goods, we travelled for up to 13 long hours via ferry from Batangas Port to Romblon. Upon arrival at the Port of Romblon, we waited for a smaller ferry called ‘Maria Querubin’ that travels from Romblon to Magdiwang, Sibuyan.

Usually it takes two to three hours of travel to reach the Port of Ambulong in Sibuyan Island, but during the rainy season when the waves are strong, travel by boat is around four hours. Fortunately for us, the sea was very calm. In fact, the sky was clear and we saw the neighboring islands of Tablas and Romblon. Dolphins even came near our ferry.

From Ambulong Port, we were fetched by a top-load jeepney. It took us to the Protected Area Office where we stayed before starting our field activities.

Conquering the Heights

Christened as the “Galapagos of Asia,” the island of Sibuyan boasts of having one of the densest forests per hectare in the world. This vast forest supports a rich and unique biodiversity that continue to amaze biologists and enthusiasts alike. This diversity was what caught our interest to explore the hidden wealth of Sibuyan.

Towering above the heart of the island is Sibuyan’s highest peak - Mt. Guiting-Guiting, or fondly called G2, which got its name from its seemingly jagged peaks. Its very steep and rocky terrain makes it one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the Philippines.

Unlike most of the mountaineers that hike the G2, our team is different. During our ascent to our first campsite at Mayo’s Peak (ca. 1,500 meters above sea level), we were accompanied by 25 porters each carrying at least 25 kg of baggage. And while mountaineers usually carry butane gas in small cans, we brought along a 20 kg LPG tank!

It took us 30 minutes to reach Gaong River which was the end of the flat land. By lunch, we were almost halfway through our hike to Camp 2 (ca. 700masl). It was our second time to hike up this mountain but it still felt like it was our first time. We stopped to rest more often—every sip of water was heavenly. We got to Camp 3 (ca. 1,300masl) at around 2:00 PM. It is common knowledge that a spring called Bulod Spring was just a few meters before reaching the campsite, but to our surprise and disappointment, it was dry!

What was left was only a small pool of water with traces of algae--still better than nothing.

We continued the hike and we arrived at our first camp site by 3:30 PM. We were surprised that we walked faster this time than during our previous hike.

Mayo’s Peak: The Place Above the Clouds

Trees were short and thin. Thick moss covered the twisting branches of trees. Thick clouds covered the area most of the day. This is Mayo’s Peak, where we spent our first week.

The area for sampling was very small because we were on top of the ridge. It was also very cold, the temperature was between 16 and 18ºC and the relative humidity not lower than 95%. Mayo’s Peak was named after Mayo Monteza, a mountaineer from the Philippine Mountaineering Society. She celebrated her birthday during the group’s first attempt to explore Mt. Guiting-Guiting.

Water was scarce at the peak. We had to set up tarpaulins so we could collect mist and dew to supplement the water supply that we got from the lower camp. Still, G2 was very kind to us as the rains were frequent even during the summer period. The water was just enough for us to survive the week.

The summit sometimes became visible on bright days. The view of the sunrise at the looking deck was breath taking. Even more beautiful was the sunset with the vestiges of the neighboring islands of Romblon and Tablas. The clear sky also revealed a peek of the Mayon Volcano all the way in Bicol.

At night, we enjoyed the company of civet cats that roamed around our camp to feed on leftover food. Only a few species of animals live in the higher elevation of G2, but they are all unique. In fact, we were able to record only one species of the bat Pipistrellus tenuis. Several undescribed species were found including the pygmy Platymantis frogs.

Camp 3: Getting Refreshed in the Spring

After five days, we went down to Camp 3 (ca. 1,300masl). There, we were reminded that it was indeed summer. It was very hot and humid and we were profusely sweating. Good thing we were close to Bulod Spring, where ice-cold water flows abundantly when it rains. We gathered water in plastic containers and took our first bath after 5 long days. Refreshing, indeed! Bulod Spring was named after the local guide who accompanied the first team to explore G2 in 1982. He was the one who found the stream a few meters from their campsite, presumably the now established Camp 3.

Our routine activities were done: setting up harp traps, light trapping insects, digging up holes for the pitfall traps and putting out the recorders.

Although it was very hot and humid during our stay, we also experienced heavy downpour just before we broke camp and transfered to another site. The rain was so heavy that our tarps were almost wrecked.

On the sixth day, 15 porters who helped us bring our things down to Camp 2 joined us. It was a very long walk along the steep slopes and very narrow trails on top of the ridge that was made more challenging by the heavy baggage we had with us. Along the way, we retrieved our harp traps and mist nets and went straight to Camp 2 to set up our next camp.

Camp 2: When We Wished for the Rain

Camp 2 was not really the best camp to stay for a long time. Water was the scarcest resource. Our guides even had to walk for one whole hour down to Camp 1 just to get water. So we made sure to save every drop of it as much as we could! Not one of us took a bath—we just used wet wipes to clean ourselves and at least feel refreshed after a day’s work.

It was very humid! Temperature was also increasing at 23-24oC during daytime. The terrain was steep and the trail was either rocky or carpeted by intertwined roots of all sizes.

Water was becoming even scarcer. The heat made it more challenging and exhausting for our guides.

We opted to use plastic bags to cover our plates, just so we didn’t have to wash them—saving more water in the process. On some days, we cleaned our plates using wet wipes.

We also ran out of LPG. Our guides had to go down to the town center but were still not able to refill the tank because of the lack of supply from the market. We had to resort to using dry wood to cook—with permission, of course.

On the third day, we ran out of rice. All that was left were a few cans of sardines and instant pancit canton.

But sometimes we also pampered ourselves. We requested our guides to buy some bananas, which we made into sweet turon. It was the best turon we ever had!

The rain that we were waiting for still had not come. It was not our lucky camp, probably.

But the night before we left the camp, it finally rained, although only for a short while. We finally had just enough water to wash the dishes. After our field activities in Camp 2, we headed down to the Protected Area Office to prepare a training for students and researchers of a local university.

Sharing Knowledge to the Locals

One of our long-term goals is to engage local researchers so that they can conduct biodiversity studies in their own island. In partnership with the Protected Area Office, we conducted a 3-day training for teachers and students of Romblon State University. The training was composed of lectures on the diversity of various groups of organisms and supplemented by hands-on field practicum. Participants were guided in collecting, handling, identifying and properly preserving arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and bats. For the first time, the locals were able to see some species that are known only from their island, including the Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat.

During the training, we discussed potential areas of research that the participants can eventually pursue, identified the challenges that they might encounter, and came up with possible solutions to bridge the gaps and address the constraints.

Camp 1: When Everything was Abundant

After the 3-day training, we packed our gear again to continue with our field activities.

At Camp 1 (ca. 350masl), water was overflowing. Our camp and tents were perfectly set; no rocks or roots underneath. It was a perfect camp site compared to the previous ones. Again, we conducted our routine activities. The herpetology team also set up more traps for monitor lizards which are quite prevalent in the lower areas.We recorded several interesting species in the area. Snakes and lizards were abundant. Monitor lizards even visited our camp to feed on the leftovers and at times, we were awakened by the chorus of wild chickens or labuyo.

During our 5-day stay in the camp, we had everything in abundance. Since we were already close to the communities, we had fresh goods in addition to the canned goods that we had.

Gaong River: An Overnight Family Picnic

Gaong River is one of the many tributaries from Mt. Guiting-Guiting. Similar to other camp sites, water here is ice-cold-- a refreshing treat for everyone. Like what we have always done, we first set up our camp.

However, we already ran out of supplies for our lunch—we only had one can of sardines left to feed nine people. Some of us had to resort to putting spicy soy sauce on our rice. But still, everyone was full. It was as if we had a feast!

After lunch, everyone enjoyed swimming in the river’s cold water. It was also an opportunity to clean the dirty and muddy gear we had. The night ended with interesting catches from our traps and opportunistic sampling. Everybody feasted on shrimps we caught from the river.

The following morning, we retrieved the traps and headed to our last site near the Protected Area Office.

Buffer Zone: “Bahay sa Kagubatan”

Our last camp was unusual. We stayed in a bunkhouse at the Protected Area Office—no more tents, no more sleeping bags, and no more tarps. Unfortunately, water supply was cut for a while when we arrived. Water sources dried up because of the extreme heat.

We did the same routine of activities, except that we visited more places around the buffer zone of the protected area, from disturbed agricultural areas to pristine waterfalls to mangroves.

We also discussed with the Protected Area Superintendent our prospects and plans for future research and collaboration.

It was indeed a successful and unforgettable expedition. We made new friends. We experienced troubles and problems but were able to overcome them.

Every hike was exhausting and tiring but living in Nature has refreshed and renewed our strength. It was rewarding to be in areas unreached by most people and to witness the grandest beauty of the forest during the day and night.

The experiences we had in Sibuyan honed us and captivated our hearts as young researchers to learn more and be trained to be good in our chosen fields. It was worth every peso that we spent and every tiring day that we were away from the comforts of home.

We are privileged to have a deeper encounter with nature while learning our crafts as field biologists.

Sincerest gratitude to the support that we got from The Rufford Foundation and The Awesome Foundation- Ottawa. ■


The Road Less Taken

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Excerpt from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

James DV. Alvarez lives by his motto to “take the road less taken” and indeed, it has made all the difference.

At only 26 years old, he has already been recognized as one of the Outstanding Researchers of the university—a feat most researchers dream of. In a span of three years, he has published five journal articles, all of which are either Web of Science or SCOPUS indexed.

He goes on month-long expeditions for his fieldwork in various provinces around the Philippines. Definitely, he is traveling a road that not many would even dare to.

The Journey Begins

James was born on 21 April 1991 to a family of farmers. Growing up, James had his daily routine revolve around school and home while his siblings helped his parents. He could not help in the farm because of a medical surgery. In fact, James could not engage in extreme or tiring activities during his childhood. Because of this, he focused instead on studying. In high school, he became really interested in biology and excelled in that particular subject. Even though he found genetics a bit difficult, he still pursued a bachelor’s degree in Biology in the hopes of becoming a doctor.

But during his freshman year he was introduced to sub-fields of biology such as wildlife and plant biology. He realized there was so much more he could do as a BS Biology graduate besides pursuing medicine.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

As James continued pursuing his degree, he became more and more exposed to wildlife biodiversity. He joined several field trips and observed plant and animal specimens in laboratories. He enjoyed listening to the stories of his professors. Soon, he found himself thinking more about wildlife biology and less about medicine.

It was in 2011 when he embarked on an internship at the UPLB Museum of Natural History. As an intern, he joined field activities with other researchers from local and international universities. One of the highlights of his internship was being a part of the Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, which had on board scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute.

Although James was not really physically active during his childhood, he surpassed the adventures and challenges that the internship provided. He didn’t just conquer steep and rocky terrains, but he was also able to conquer his fear of heights. “Fear of heights? It’s constraining,” James recalls. “I find it hard to explore high or steep places but I overcame that fear through time. In short, the difficult terrain will not stop me from exploring.”

Exploring mountains led James to know more about the rich biodiversity of animals and other wonders of nature. Even though he had health problems when he was young and he had a history of getting tired easily, that did not hinder him from pursuing an adventure beyond his comfort zone. He felt calm and assured to continue on this road.

Among all the species he got to know, James was most interested in bats. In fact, while most people have favorite colors, favorite animals, and favorite food, James has a favorite bat species—the Myotis rufopictus or the orange-fingered myotis. It’s a relatively small bat with black wing and tail membranes. The bat’s body and skin over the wing bones are a bright orange, which makes it unique and extraordinary among Philippine bats.

James loved bats so much that even his thesis was about them. His thesis on ectoparasite diversity and host-parasite association of bats in Mount Makiling won 2nd place during the undergraduate poster presentation of the 21st Annual Philippine Biodiversity Symposium in 2012 at the National Museum of the Philippines. He continued on this road less taken, and was able to publish his undergraduate thesis in a scientific journal.

Until now, as a permanent extension associate of the very institution that nurtured him, he facilitates fieldwork activities, demonstrates museum activities, and delivers talks about wildlife biodiversity conservation, and of course—bats.

“And be one traveler, long I stood.”

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” James recalled when asked about being awarded as the Outstanding Researcher for the Junior REPS/Natural Sciences Category during the 2017 UPLB Foundation Day Celebration. He shared that when he submitted the documents for deliberation, his colleagues were the ones confident that he will be chosen.

In fact, he was off on another fieldwork during the deliberation period. When the selection committee requested additional documents, it was hard to reach him but he was able to deliver.

According to James, the decision to apply for the award was an act of desperation—he was looking for additional funds to be able to pursue his planned fieldwork in Sibuyan Island, Romblon.

Now with this recent recognition, James feels a bit pressured to produce outstanding outputs. “I have to maintain the prestige,” he noted. At the moment, James doesn’t see himself exploring a different field other than wildlife biology, and sees himself getting involved in biodiversity conservation and education campaigns in the future.

“I can start with bats and pursue their conservation in the long run,” James explained. “After all, they are very important when it comes to balancing biodiversity.” James has found his passion in studying bats so he is really motivated to get training on how to communicate the conservation of the little flying mammals that he loves.

“And looked down one as far as I could”

From someone who got tired easily as a kid, James now spends most of his time outdoors. He is not your typical lab scientist—the outside world is James’ laboratory. In place of test tubes and chemicals, James’ working environment is full of rough and uneven land.

His adventure along this road has led him to learn more things, making him a well-rounded individual with many talents. He learned photography as well as writing news and feature articles for online and print media.

When James received his first International Publication Award, he bought his very first camera so he can pursue a new-found passion—wildlife photography. He joins bird photographers once in a while as they capture unique moments in the life of birds. He is looking forward to studying night photography, and of course bat photography.

It started with choosing biology as a degree, and then deciding to pursue wildlife biodiversity. What used to be a simple goal to finish a degree soon branched out into even more opportunities. Along the way, James even learned basic Photoshop and he also took time to write stories about his explorations.

He used his new found knowledge to produce communication materials such as brochures for the Museum of Natural History. His work has led to more people learning about the museum’s activities, services, and training programs on biodiversity conservation.

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way”

Despite all the tiring adventures, James remains inspired and passionate in pursuing his career as a wildlife biologist. One of the things he enjoys most during field work is talking to the locals. He likes hearing about their experiences as well as exchanging discussions about traditional and modern knowledge.

Aside from seeing animals and plants that are not usually seen by many, the stories of the locals are the highlight of James’ travels.“Everything I learned is supplemented by the locals’ stories,” James says fondly. “I am even more inspired whenever I hear their stories and whenever they say that they appreciate our efforts.”

On a side note though, James has realized early on that people in the field of wildlife biology don’t really earn much.

“But what’s the point of getting money if I’m not enjoying what I’m doing?” he says. For him, the path he chose was definitely a pleasant surprise—after all, this is where he found his passion, commitment, and determination to continue his journey.

“Not a lot of people pursue this profession,” James adds. “This is my way of giving back to the people who gave their time and effort to mentor me—by pursuing the same field that they helped enrich.”

If James were to go back to the start and choose between the direction he took and the others he did not, he will still make the same decision. After all, it led him to so much more.

He had to walk long hours, walk on muddy terrain, climb steep hills, and even swim across rivers. He had to endure strong rains and raging rivers, but he kept going.

He was able to discover a lot more about the outside world—and in doing so, found himself. His heart as a researcher continues to lead him to endless adventures and greater heights.

Yes, James took the road less traveled by—and now he is making a lot of difference. ■


Planting Seeds of Hope in the Countryside: A Woman's Journey through Decades of Public Service

It was in 2017 that she was recognized as UPLB’s Outstanding Extension Personnel for her work and involvement in the highly-awarded Farmer-Scientist Training Program (FSTP) of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Romulo G. Davide. But Ms. Guillerma Z. Valencia, better known as Guilly, has been doing extension and public service projects under UPLB for around 38 years already.

She has been working as one of the core staff of FSTP for more than a decade; but prior to this, she had been involved in several rural development extension programs under the then College of Agriculture (CA). Ms. Guilly’s experiences as an extension personnel at UPLB reflect the changes, challenges, and characteristics inherent to the university’s innate and distinctive brand of public service.

Born in Kidapawan, Cotabato in 1957, Ms. Guilly grew up with an interest in anything concerning food. Although she never got into farming herself despite having both parents as farmers, she finished a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Home Economics at the University of Southern Mindanao. She didn’t actively plan in becoming an extension worker prior to joining UPLB in 1979. It just so happened that during her time, college graduates of Agricultural Home Economics usually end up working as extension personnel in local government units or agencies.

And she also didn’t plan working at UPLB. It so happened that an uncle, employed in UPLB, convinced her to move to Los Baños and work for the university. Given an opportunity to work in ‘Manila’ or in the ‘city’ (as folks from the provinces would coin any place near the capital as ‘Manila’ in the past), Ms. Guilly packed her bags and moved right after graduating college.

Her first extension work was in an action research project on consumer preference based at the UPLB College of Development and Economics and Management (CDEM). The action research project was part of the Countryside Action Program (CAP), a multidisciplinary program lodged in the different colleges and units of UPLB and led by CA under the administration of Dean Cledualdo B. Perez from 1974 to 1984.

Afterwards, under the leadership of Dean Ruben L. Villareal (1985-1993), all project staff under the CAP, including Ms. Guilly, housed under the different colleges were moved to the CA Dean’s Office. A new extension program was created, the Agricultural Development Program for the Countryside (ADPC), a national extension program funded by the Department of Agriculture (DA), which aimed to help government units in agricultural development after the devolution of extension function from DA because of the Local Government Code of 1991.

This extension program was not only focused in agriculture but also covered different sectors and aspects of barangay life, such as health and infrastructure. Program activities also include helping communities link with funding agencies by training them in technical and management skills such as proposal making. After Villareal’s term, Dean Cecilio R. Arboleda (1993-1999) changed the program into the Agro-Industrial Development Program (AIDP) and included engineering, entrepreneurial and industrial aspects in the extension program, with activities related to livelihood and enterpreneurship.

“In the past, we would be doing research and extension activities. But right now (under FSTP), we are only doing extension work,” Ms. Guilly said during an interview. Her involvement with FSTP started during the time of CA Dean Luis Rey I. Velasco (1999-2002). Around that period, the College of Public Affairs (CPAf), which focal areas include extension education and community development, was newly created, taking with them most of the faculty and staff under CA’s Department of Agricultural Education and Rural Studies (DAERS).

There were more or less five staff left in DAERS. The solution: all technical staff under the CA Dean’s Office were assigned to DAERS, together with some of the major extension programs of the college. It was also around this time that the departments under CA started grouping into clusters, with DAERS being grouped under the Agricultural Systems Cluster (ASC) together with the Farming Systems and Soil Resources Institute. During this time, ASC was implementing AIDP, the Corn Research and Development Program funded by DA-BAR, and the Corn-based FSTP. Being under the same cluster, Ms. Guilly was able to work for FSTP.

Founded and spearheaded by Professor Emeritus Dr. Romulo G. Davide in 1994, FSTP is a 3-phase program that aims to empower farmers by teaching them comprehensive knowledge in agriculture, developing their social and organizational skills, and shaping them to serve as agricultural extension workers in their own communities.

It became a National Program in 2008 and is now being implemented jointly by the DA-Agriculture Training Institute (ATI), the local government units and the UPLB FSTP group. The UPLB FSTP group develops the modules and manual of operations being used in all sites, conducts regional Training of Trainers and site lectures, and monitors all site areas especially during Phase 2 of the program where the farmer-scientist students are conducting their experimental trials.

The FSTP group have visited many far-flung and isolated areas, most of which are from 4th to 5th class municipalities where extension workers are lacking, and they have a lot of stories to tell.

Ms. Guilly had experienced travelling on land, sea, and air for hours; had walked on foot through dirt roads and mountains for more than an hour to get to a farmer’s site; had ridden a habal-habal, a carabao, and been carried around by the locals across flooded rivers; had fallen in one of those murky rivers, stayed wet the whole day and learned to pack everything in extras; and had been a hair’s breath away from being caught in a crossfire between the military and a rebel group.

It doesn’t help that they have scheduled trips almost weekly. “Kung hindi mo mahal ang extension work, hindi mo magugustuhan ang trabaho na tulad ng sa amin,” Ms. Valencia states. Luckily, she has loved her job from the very beginning and finds pride in it whenever her students, the farmer beneficiaries, would tell them how much they have learned from the program and how amazing it was that, despite their lack of educational degree, they were able to become teachers/educators of other farmers in their community.

“We are not expert breeders ourselves,” Ms. Guilly claims though. “But we teach them how to detassle corn.” The topic of corn breeding is usually the most memorable lecture for the farmers, as well as for the FSTP group. “They didn’t know that (detasseling). Before, they don’t touch the (corn) flower because they thought the corn wouldn’t grow. So when we do the exercise for detasseling, the farmers would be worried that the plants wouldn’t bear fruits.”

Ms. Guilly says that the farmers are usually amazed by what they have learned and would start using the knowledge and techniques in their own farm practices. A few of their farmer-scientists even became corn breeders and were able to sell their own seeds in the community. Seeing the farmers’ joy in learning new things, helping them cultivate and earn better, and experiencing their gratitude are some of the most unforgettable experiences for Ms. Guilly. Though FSTP as a program has a lot of strengths, Ms. Guilly shares that the sustainability of the program in the rural areas rely mainly in the willingness and support of the LGUs and/or the farmer associations.

By Phase 3 of the program, the LGU and the farmer-scientist association are given the reins of management to keep the program alive. The farmer-scientists are given the task to teach and help others in the community; while the LGU are tasked to support them. In reality, not all areas succeeded in implementing the program due to lack of support.

However, the FSTP group has managed to spark the interests of farmers to learn more and develop their skills, not only in farming, but also their social and business skills. They helped bring back the farmers’ self-esteem and opened new opportunities for them.

As for Ms. Guilly, she intends to continue her work in the FSTP until the last few years she has left in UPLB. At the moment, she is the oldest among the six core staff of FSTP. She recognizes the need to build up the staff in order for the project to continue serving the rural farmers. “UPLB public service right now is really good. There was a time when we didn’t go directly to serve the farmers. It is better now. If we do not this (extension activities), then the technologies we developed will not reach the people.”

Because of FSTP, the farmers were able to learn and use UPLB products such as BIOTECH ‘s BIO-N and IPB’s OPV seeds, as these materials are being used for the FSTP’s experimental set-ups.

This, in effect, helps endear UPLB in the minds of the farmers as an institution that helps them, an institution they could trust. “They don’t forget that the people who taught them were from UPLB,” Ms. Guilly said.

And that is how you grow seeds that bear fruits in people, through public service. ■


On Firm Ground

Dr. Desiree M. Hautea—this year’s Outstanding Researcher—is a steadfast and selfless woman of faith. She stands tall as a scientist exemplar but remains grounded like a plant that thrives in the face of adversity.

“I cannot work for money,” Desiree Hautea smiles softly as she utters the words. She pauses to lean back for a while and continues. “I always engage in any undertaking where first and foremost—I have belief in. Second is, I am confident that it can help a lot of people. And third, it is aligned with my moral code.”

Her Roots

Desiree credits her good moral upbringing to her parents—the tinkerer and the dressmaker—as she fondly endeared them. She could still recall her father telling her, “Hindi kita pinakain ng nakaw.” She carries this saying with her to this day—in both personal and professional aspects of her life. Her father’s constant reminder is present in every project she takes on. She recognizes that project funds entrusted to her are not for hers to keep or exploit for personal use. This is just the first of many reasons why she consistently thrives in her profession.

In several ways, Desiree’s parents had influenced her skills and drive when it came to her work as a researcher. She was raised in a problem-solving family background. Overcoming challenges was their family’s natural tendency. Not once did she see her parents back down from a fight. Whenever a problem emerged, they confronted it. Motivated by the love for their work and children, they struggled and adjusted almost every day. Although there were tough times, they always managed to face life’s trials head-on.

Her father, the tinkerer, was a repairman who could merge old and worn out materials into new and innovative things. He had the ability to conjure up something useful out of objects that would likely be discarded by others. Desiree spent most of her childhood days in her father’s workshop. She loved watching him craft all sorts of things. Although she couldn’t remember exactly what they were, her feelings of reminiscence couldn’t be made clearer.

Her mother, on the other hand, would rigorously work on her sewing machine day in and day out. She would study during her spare time and in doing so eventually adapted to evolving fashion trends. Desiree described both her parents as having an eye for details. Her father always made sure his inventions would work in the long run while her mother ensured the clothes she either mended or created were taste-wise and body-wise perfectly fitted to her customers.

“My parents were always on the go. I grew up in an atmosphere where no one frequently followed routines. They were also both very dexterous so when they worked, they always gave their best,” adds Desiree.

Sprout of Seedlings

Growing up, Desiree dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. She loved the idea of helping people. Seeing her father’s inventions sparked her interest in science and the cutting-edge technologies that came with it.

It was only until her teenage years that she realized her dream of becoming a medical doctor was not a rational one. Taking up a course in medicine meant paying huge tuition fees her parents could not afford. Being the second of five children, Desiree also knew that she would be supporting her younger siblings upon starting work. As such, when it was time to choose what college degree to pursue, she chose what is practical over what she desired. Desiree found that Agriculture was the most sensible option for her. Even though she couldn’t fulfill her childhood dream, she was comforted by the idea that she could still serve the Filipino people.

While taking up BS Agriculture in UPLB, she worked as a student assistant at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The hard-working Desiree would continue working long after office hours even without a supervisor in sight. Little did she know at the time, Dr. T.T. Chang—one of the scientists at IRRI, noticed her efforts. Right after graduation, he offered her a job at IRRI—an honor and a great opportunity. She, however, politely declined the offer because her heart wanted her to work for the academe. “The only way I can give back what was given to me is to also create the same opportunities for the next generation…That is my reason for teaching and staying in the university,” explains Desiree.

She went on to take her MS degree in Genetics and her PhD in Molecular Genetics which were both under full scholarship. Desiree took her PhD from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the United States. Her time abroad had not only expanded her expertise, but also broadened her connections in the field. After receiving her PhD in the US, she returned to the Philippines and worked at the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) as a full-time researcher.

One of her most notable projects at IPB was her introduction of molecular marker technology which was still a relatively new field in the 1980s. Despite the challenge of using new technology, Desiree saw great potential in it. She wanted to conduct and use the technology for plant breeding applications and genetic resources. One of the applications of molecular marker technology is the production of genetically modified (GM) crops. GM crops contain genes from other organisms that can boost yield and improve resistance. These genes are identified first through molecular marker technology before undergoing the transfer process. Desiree’s efforts in proposing this branch of biotechnology at IPB ultimately led to the Bt eggplant—her most revolutionary breakthrough to date.

Weeds and Other Pests

Much like the plants that she studies, Desiree also has her own weeds and pests to deal with. But even if she is attacked unexpectedly and persistently, Desiree remains resilient as a strong plant would stay firmly on the ground. She never retreated even when they came repeatedly and fought to stay. Sometimes though, holding on or even fighting back is not enough. At one point, Desiree had to adapt to a situation by transforming herself into an all-around woman. Since the money allotted for most of her projects did not often cover hiring experts—she had to become her own communication specialist, economist, and lawyer.

In every project, her goal remains the same: produce tangible solutions for the majority. Desiree always prioritizes the needs of her intended audience. She studies fields far from her own expertise so she could better understand farmers and come up with projects that could reap for them the greatest benefits.

In some cases, weeds and pests turn into recurring problems which one could not face alone. Among these include lack of funds, unavailability of resources, and the public’s fear of innovation. Desiree recognizes that from time to time, she does need a little help. Desiree views each problem as a challenge. She believes that there is always a way to work around these problems.

“Every time there’s a challenge, I always try to look for solutions. Most of the time, I think out of the box…I’m also very impatient so I cannot wait for others to solve things for me.” Although Desiree is more than capable of cutting down weeds and protecting herself from pests, she does acknowledge that other people may have better ideas to beat them. She shares that she might have actually learned a lot more from being in the coffee room than sitting in a classroom.

“…In the coffee room, you discuss…You have people with different perspectives on a certain issue. When things don’t work, you throw it out in the open and you’ll be surprised that some of the most innovative ideas that make it work comes from people who are not too myopic,” says Desiree. Of course, the conversations in the coffee room can still be insufficient at times. This is when Desiree would turn to reading just about any source she has access to.

Apart from people and books, she also picks up several things from attending seminars. She enjoys reflecting on newfound knowledge and refuses to accept the concept of wasted time. Desiree believes at least 10% of anything she spends her time for would be valuable and applicable to her life.

Breeding the Next Generation

Desiree prefers to see only the goodness in others. She believes people are generally willing to help if we only knew how to ask them. “To me, there are no closed doors…it is just a matter of knowing how to knock,” says Desiree. In this regard, she thanks her bosses and co-workers; Dr. T.T. Chang; Dr. Dolores A. Ramirez; and a research team in Utah, USA. These people extended material support, gave her academic freedom, and opened doors for her. They brought sunshine into her life which supported and nurtured her research work through the years.

Desiree hopes to provide for others the same opportunities and more. This is the main reason why she chose to stay in the university. Whenever she hears of someone receiving a failing grade, Desiree often tells her students, “Ay nako, walang taga-UP na bobo…Bakit kayo nasisingko? Hindi dahil bobo kayo, kasi tamad kayo…Kung matalino ka edi matalino ka…It’s a given. But to succeed, that’s not all you need. I have seen many who are very smart but fail to succeed because their attitude is all wrong.”

Desiree believes learning should be a continuous process and to succeed, we must never get tired of learning how to learn. As one of her college professors once said, “What is taught are not the facts. What is taught is how to learn.”

When asked what her message is for young and aspiring researchers and scientists, Desiree says, “Live for what UP stands for…service to the nation or rather to the people…Sabi nga nila life is more meaningful when it is shared. It’s a lot like food...nakakatamad kapag kumakain ka mag-isa o magluluto ka para sa sarili mo lang.” She laughs at this and pauses a bit to let out a beaming smile. She continues with, “Don’t do things just for yourself…Good things come to those who share their gifts with others…”

And with this, she recalls one of her early statements on living life with a selfless purpose. “I cannot work for money…I cannot work without a sense of mission. It must deem a certain meaning that is beyond me.” ■


How Women’s Month came to be

The beginning of the celebration of Women’s Month can trace its roots in the socialist and labor movements in the United State of America. The first ever Women’s Day happened in New York City on 28 February, 1909 as a national observance which is organized by the Socialist Party. This was done to commemorate the one year anniversary of the strikes by the garment workers in New York, where a large number of women went and marched through lower Manhattan to Union Square to fight for economic rights, the same strike was also done to honor the 1857 protest, where garment workers fought for equal rights and a 10-hour day.


UPLB takes part in the advancement of the Philippine Mango Industry

Mangoes are one of the most important fruit crops in the Philippines, along with banana and pineapple. Aside from an already established market here, it has a lot of potential in the international market. Foreigners and tourists remain to be impressed with our export variety, called the “Carabao” mango which is known all over the world.

In 2011, the Philippines had a production area of 187,073 hectares and produced 788,074 MT. That same year, mango production dropped by 5.38%. There were fewer fruits harvested in some provinces, as well as reduction of flower induction.

S & T for the mango industry

With the ASEAN integration, demand for quality mangoes is expected. Backed by scientific research on integrated crop management (ICM) and postharvest quality management (PQM), the Philippines’ mango industry is seen as a strong competitor.

ICM and PQM make use of traditional and modern techniques that complement Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for mango. ICM includes practices that help improve plant health and fruit yield through the reduction of the pests and diseases as well as through the promotion of plant growth and development. It involves cost-effective and need-based pesticide spraying programs and other interventions such as bagging, pruning, and canopy development.

Meanwhile, PQM focuses on postharvest handling practices to ensure that the mangoes are safe and fresh as they are brought to the consumers. PQM is also involved in meeting trade requirements and ensuring that buyers’ specifications are met from harvest to transport.

Because of ICM and PQM, there has been an increase in volume of harvest, quality fruits, and even income of mango stakeholders.

UPLB’s role in the upscaling of the mango industry

The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) was one of the state colleges and universities that took part in a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD).

Seven clusters of mango growers were organized in Regions I, II, III, IV-A, VI, and XII. There were 69 members and the total area covered was 69 hectares. The members were trained on different ICM technologies like pruning, fertilizer application, fruit bagging, and postharvest practices. A team was assigned to each region for direct technical assistance and monitoring of orchard activities.

The program ended last July 2015. Of the 69 cluster members, 29% were able to reach their target yield. While the cost of production increased by 46%, the gross income also increased by 21%. Net income increased by only 8% from PhP 68,512 to PhP 74,142 per hectare though the partial budget showed a higher overall increase in net income of PhP 19,328 per hectare, indicating that adopting ICM technologies is economically viable. Before ending the program, a Mango Care Manual was developed using the 13 leaflets on the ICM technologies.

The clustering strategy has enabled experts to effectively guide the cluster members in the implementation of ICM and PQM. Because of this, the members were able to share their experiences on production and postharvest techniques.

Aside from UPLB, DOST-PCAARRD has partnered with other state universities and colleges all over the Philippines to promote the adoption of ICM and PQM to the mango farmers.

Through this program, the advancement of the Philippine mango industry is seen to reach new heights, especially now that it is backed up by science and technology.


Partnerships: Key to Reviving our Forests

Forests comprised 57 percent of the Philippines’ total land area in 1934 according to the 2015 publication by the Philippine Senate, Philippine Forests at A Glance.

In 2010, the Philippines’ forest cover dropped to only 23 percent or about 6.8 million hectares. The publication attributes this decline to increased agricultural and housing needs, intensified commercial and illegal logging, kaingin, and forest fires.


Reimagining Landscaping: Combining Form and Function

Growing organic fruits and vegetables is a continuing trend as more and more people are becoming more health-conscious. Because of this, people have already started growing their own crops right in their own gardens! Why so? It is because growing your own food gives you the assurance that they are healthy and fresh.


Descent into the Summit: The Benham Bank Seamount Project

“Upon seeing the bottom, you will be placed in a dreamy state. It is as if time has slowed down.” Those were the words of Dr. Hildie Marie E. Nacorda, Assistant Professor at the UPLB School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM), when asked about her first time descending Benham Bank – the shallowest portion of Benham Rise.

Benham Rise is the country’s newest territory, a 13M hectare submarine plateau which rises from the seafloor off the coast of Aurora province.

Around 3,000 meters deep, Benham Rise is a seamount--an underwater mountain. Its biological richness depends on its steep slope which forces seawater to carry nutrients upward, providing food for various marine life.


Is the Philippines Food Secure?

“Anytime that one would need food, food is there.” That is how Interdisciplinary Studies Center on Food Security (ISCFS) chair Dr. Domingo Angeles exemplified food security. He said that food should be accessible, healthy, and nutritious—being able to meet the daily demands of one’s body. Dr. Angeles added that food security also means that food can be used in the long run.