Campus tour at UPLB Bio-Tech

Thank you very much to the professors and scientists who have worked here during the establishment of Biotech, Dra. Priscilla Sanchez, the director who gave us the very enlightening briefing, Dr. Rosario Monsalud, the deputy director, Dr. Marilyn Brown, and all the others from Biotech who are here today. Thank you very much for this opportunity to come and visit with you this morning.

You cannot imagine how interesting it is to a frustrated scientist. But all of my courses of study until university were directed towards science. It was only when I applied for mathematics and philosophy in Oxford when I heard from my father and he said “I think you should try to think about studying politics and economics because that is where we will need you,”

But anyway, it is exceedingly interesting to me and I am very happy to be able to come here because I have spoken a great deal often about the necessity of research and development, especially for our agricultural sector. It is particularly interesting and it is something that I have to be reminded of that the beginnings of biotech were actually biofuels. And the foresight that that demonstrated was truly remarkable because if we think about the biofuels came into the attention of the world, maybe less than 10 years ago, and that’s the only time we’re hearing about the competition between engineering and food as we saw 5-6 years ago in energy and sugar especially. Energy and food were in competition. In any case, from those beginnings, we have seen tha,t of course, the rest of the world actually were pioneers here. The rest of the world has finally caught up with the work you were doing here. Just from the original name, National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, just served to indicate that gene science was just in its very infancy in 1979. I don’t think anybody talked about mapping genomes, talked about any of these kinds of things until we started seeing the importance of it.

And the reason I’m particularly happy to come here today is having gone around and trying to solve some of the problems we are facing, I have always highlighted, especially in terms of agriculture in our country right now is, I can only describe it, is in dire straits. Whereas we had 30 plus in percent contribution of agriculture to our economy in previous years. We are now 10 percent. And that is indicated by the fact that 70 percent of people who are considered below the poverty line are, in fact, in the agricultural sector. And so, clearly there is a great need for much more support for our farmers and for our food security.

And I think that the work that is being done here is remarkable. We cannot overestimate the importance of research and development into these new technologies into these new discoveries that you are exploring here in Biotech. Again, we have a continuing problem of, as I said, the support for farmers. But it has to be recognized that the foresight that was demonstrated by the establishment. I’m very proud that it was established during the Marcos administration. I’m extremely proud that it was well-funded by the State, all of the research in Biotech. It was recognized even then how important this technology is. How important the work that you do here is.

We hope, notwithstanding the problems you are facing, to bring back to focus and to highlight, one of the reasons why I came today, was to highlight how important research and development is now to, not only the agricultural sector, but as we are reminded to the energy sector. Even now in medical science taking advantage of all of that, we have seen the conversion of many of the critics of gene technology in the beginning because of the fears of runaway hybridization and all that. But now we are starting to see that people are beginning to recognize and I was astounded by the statement of my father when he said “No in in this century,” he was a little, as usual, the old man was ahead of his time, “No one in the 21st century, and I think it is well recognized, that no, we, the 21st century cannot feed ourselves without the science that is being done here.”

Perhaps it is more remarkable that, in 1979, we were talking about these things already. Because, in 1979, this was not really recognized. It was primary research. We could not see it in connection with this primary research that was going to extend to what farmers are actually putting in the ground to what we can produce to make energy. Even in the applications in medicine were not even spoken of. But here we are now. We talked about, we have mapped genomes now, we recognized that there is a great deal of medical technology that is based on the study of DNA, and all of these that we can see. That is something that is so important and it is no longer something that is obscure, something that scientists in their ivory towers talk about. Whereas, it is clearly very important to the everyday lives of ordinary farmers and, for that matter, all of us in the Philippines.

Again, I’m extremely proud that our name is connected to the work that you do here and I’m extremely impressed by the fact that so early on, those of you who were part of this, had already recognized the importance of all the great things that can be done. It is unfortunate that, in the interim, we have failed you in the sense that many of the past administrations have not recognized, not only the importance of what you do; the gains and the advantages that you can provide to so many sectors of our society.

While we were listening to your briefing, pinaghahatian na naming yung aming gagawin. Yung tatlo, magiging congressman, yung isa magiging senador. Ang hinihingi ng ating director ay isang bus. Sabi ni Senator Martin “Huwag mo na gamitin yung bus.” Siya na daw bahala. Sabi niya new building. O, si Anton Lagdameo, si Congressman Lagdameo, iba na. Pinaghahatian na nila yung isa pang building. As much as we can, I think it is important that we need to show, not only to the scientists, not only to the academics, not only to the specialists, but to everyone how important the work here is being done and how it directly impacts upon the lives of every single Filipino. Because this technology crosses all the lines of research. And as you can see, we started with biofuels, then we went to agriculture, right now into medicine. Now, we’re hearing of all kinds of wonderful prospects for what used to be called biotechnology research, all of these technologies that have sprung from that.

I can only congratulate all of you who have been involved in Biotech. I know that the support from government has been less than ideal, but that is because the understanding of what you are doing and how important it is has also been, sadly, lacking.

The original concept behind Biotech has not been seen in its proper place. I hope that with a more enlightened leadership in the coming years, we can remind everyone that this is not some obscure study that scientists like to play with – these experiments and primary research that doesn’t apply to our everyday life. I think one of the best places for us to be able to bring back to consciousness the work that you do here is to remind people that this directly affects lives of every Filipino not in 10 years, not in 30 years, but now. Today. And that is something I think we have forgotten and that is something we should all be reminded of.

Again, I congratulate all those who are involved in Biotech. I’m extremely gratified to see that you have kept my father’s dream alive and his son you can count on to support you in every way possible.

I cannot thank you enough for going through the sacrifices that, no doubt, you have been going through despite the meager support that you have been receiving. I think once we remind everyone of the importance of the work that you’re doing here perhaps that will be the beginning of the resurgence of the recognition of what you’re doing in Biotech. Again, congratulations on your very good work *crowd applauses* It has rekindled our realization how important it is the work that you do as part of the development of our country. It might sound a little overly grand but that is in fact the truth because it affects every part of our society. I truly believe that it is a very important part of what we hope to do when we say “nation building.” So, thank you very much.

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