A high school worthy of greater support

To Take A Stand
Mario Antonio G. Lopez

Posted on December 08, 2015

Last Nov. 29, my wife and I were invited to the Gawad Lagablab Awarding Ceremonies honoring outstanding graduates of the Philippine Science High School System (PhiSci). We were invited by Maria Antonia Odelia “Maoi” G. Arroyo, a colleague in the AIM faculty where she teaches technology entrepreneurship. Her “regular” work is as president of Hybridigm Consulting, Inc., a biotechnology consulting company, the first of it kind in the country that she and a PhiSci schoolmate had set up.

There were twelve honorees in all.

Two things touched me deeply that evening. The first was the depth of commitment the honorees had to making Life better for the Filipinos and the world. The second were the “footnotes” of the guest speaker, Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, PhD, undersecretary for Scientific and Technological Services, Department of Science and Technology (DoST), herself a PhiSci alumna and recipient of a Gawad Lagablab award. The “footnotes” highlighted the impact each of the awardees had made on Philippine and global societies, the major criterion for qualifying for the awards.

The award winners were, and I use the “footnotes” of Undersecretary Guevara with my own tweaks:

Milton B. Amayun, MD, MPH, Class of ’69, award for social upliftment -- an early leader in anti-HIV/AIDS programs, he sustained his effort in projects with United States Agency for International Development, World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations. His work is now felt globally. He has come home to continue the work in-country;

Carlos A. Arcilla, PhD, Class of ’77, award for academic and professional work -- when foreign consultants all failed in figuring out the source of the problem and the solution to that much publicized petroleum leak in a Makati condominium. The Filipino figured it out where the imported talents had failed;

Maoi Arroyo, MPhil, Class of ’95, award for entrepreneurship -- together with Hybridigm team, she crafted the data sharing policy for the “Nationwide Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment for Mitigation,” a high-resolution, 3-D mapping program for the country that is a main ingredient in the Project NOAH. The work eventually became the precursor for DoST data sharing policy based on the precept that publicly-funded research data are produced in the public interest and should therefore be accessible to the maximum extent possible. To date, Hybridigm has helped some 3,500 biotech ventures in the country;

Vietrez David-Abella, MD, FPCS, FPSGS, Class of ’84, award for social upliftment and community service -- most doctors flock to urban areas where the material rewards are. She chose to serve the people of Catanduanes and went beyond her medical profession by empowering women and founding a literacy advocacy group in the province;

Portia Grace H. Fernandez-Marcelo, MD, MPH, Class of ’83, award for social upliftment -- seven out of 10 Filipinos never see a doctor in their lifetime. RxBox is a locally-designed telehealth device that has biomedical sensors, including a fetal heart monitor used in childbirth, and uses cellular phone technology for data transmission. Her work in putting RxBox in a tele-health system and its deployment has already made life better for thousands as well as saved many lives;

Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, LLB, LLM, Class of ’90, award for government service -- a prolific lawmaker, he crafted landmark bills (45 authorships and 105 co-authorship, most of them passed into law) on human rights (including the rights of people internally displaced by calamities, the promotion of fair competition and the right to information). He has also worked for improvements in the government’s budgetary process;

Ricardo T. Jose, PhD, Class of ’74 -- a Professor XII in UP is rarely achieved at a young age and requires academic excellence of the highest degree. His body of work on Philippine military and diplomatic history has made him to “go-to” authority in these subjects, and his 35 years of service in UP speaks of the service that he has rendered to our country;

Prospero C. Naval, Jr., PhD, Awardee for academic work and applied research, Class of ’78 -- it is very rare that you will see a computer geek scuba diving, but he did, all in the name of research for a 3-D video equipment that he and his team have designed, implemented and tested, to count fish in the water. The equipment will aid our subsistence fishermen, our poorest socioeconomic sector, identify the exact sites where to fish and the sites to avoid when fish are spawning;

Reinabelle C. Reyes, PhD in Astrophysics, Class of 2001, awardee for scientific research -- she has done research that proved the veracity of some of Einstein’s theories. She is leading a team that uses science to design, implement and test a pre- and post-disaster logistics system for relief goods, rebuilding materials and other necessary supplies. The logistics system will identify sites for pre-positioning these needed items, to ensure quick response after a disaster;

Edsel Maurice T. Salvaña, MD, DTM&H, FCCP, FIDSA, Class of ’92, awardee for medicine -- he helps provide our country with the needed expertise in tropical medicine, especially in today’s world of emerging and reemerging more virulent strains of tropical diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. There are very few doctors in this specialization in our country, and his return and the leadership role he has undertaken at University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health is a welcome development;

Ma. Asuncion A. Silvestre, MD, FPSNbM, Class of ’75, award for social upliftment -- she has saved 50,000 newborn babies each year in the Western Pacific Region with her research on infant mortality and morbidity, and her advocacy for a very simple and very human solution, Unang Yakap (first hug), an intervention that has been adopted by the WHO; and

Denis F. Villorente, Class of ’84, award for government service -- under his leadership at the DoST Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), the design and operation of the largest network for education and government, PREGINET, became possible. In the last three years, under his leadership, ASTI developed, implemented and deployed 1,510 weather sensors in all the 18 major river systems of the country. These sensors contribute data to the flood early warning system of Project NOAH. This bests the record of the prior forty years where only 197 weather sensors in five major river systems, acquired through foreign donations and loans were put in place.

The acceptance messages of our twelve science trained Filipinos bore one signature. They all spoke of a desire to serve, to do work of social significance, which is the way they defined their success rather than on the current social norms of (material) prosperity, popularity, and power.

Several spoke for a higher level of general education buit especially of science education in all our schools so that we may address our problems more systematically, effectively and efficiently.

They all spoke of the gratitude they felt for the education they got as scholars of the nation and the urge to pay back the country and the nation for the privilege.

One of them said, “Excellence does not seek success, it seeks significance. Success is when you add value to yourself. Significance is when you add value to others.”

We need “men and women who are so busy serving the people around them they don’t have time to envy the people above them. Men and women who are so great, that they are always willing to be little; especially for a lofty purpose.”

All of the 12 were testaments to this.

Mario Antonio G. Lopez teaches at the Asian Institute of Management and consults for business, government and civil society