Four Filipino science experts were officially named National Scientist by President Benigno Aquino III in ceremonies held at Malacañang Palace last August 12, 2014.

They are Academicians Gavino C. Trono Jr. (marine botany), Angel C. Alcala (biological sciences), Roman C. Barba (horticulture), and Edgardo D. Gomez (marine biology).

Assisted by Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Mario G. Montejo and National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST PHL) President William Padolina, Pres. Aquino conferred on them the highest recognition given to Filipino scientists for their sterling contributions to the community.

Serious about seaweeds

Trono’s extensive research work on seaweeds is the highlight of his accomplishments. He successfully implemented 45 research projects and was able to describe and publish 25 new species of marine benthic algae which includes seaweeds. He was also the first to report the occurrence of “ice-ice” disease among seaweeds. Moreover, Trono established the largest phycological herbarium in the country – the G.T Velasquez Herbarium at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, which houses more than 70,000 curated herbarium specimens of the seaweed flora.

Marine protector

On the other hand, Alcala undertook studies which led to a national policy program that established no-take MPAs (marine protected areas) in the country. No-take MPAs are marine reserves from which no harvest is allowed. This leads to the buildup of marine biodiversity including fishery species as well as export of adult fish to areas outside MPAs used for fishing, thereby enhancing fish yields. As president of Siliman University from 1991-1992, Alcala also helped institutionalize scientific research on marine biology and marine conservation. He served as consultant for marine and aquatic projects supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and others.

Making a go with mangoes
Barba’s specialization in plant physiology has made mangoes available all year round, even in dry areas like Cebu and Guimaras. Through his developed plant growth enhancer called FLUSH, the growth cycle of trees is being accelerated, advancing their flowering and fruiting stages. This regularity of mango production is a key ingredient in the development of mango exports which gave rise to an entirely new industry of processed mango products.

Not only was Barba’s technology successfully applied on other fruit trees like cashew; it found its way to foreign shores as well. Mango producing countries in Latin America, Asia, and Australia have adopted it for their own mango production ventures. It has been patented in the USA, England, Australia and New Zealand. Barba, however, did not collect any royalty as he prefers ordinary farmers to use the technology freely.

Coral reef caretaker
Meanwhile, Gomez intensively campaigned for the conservation and restoration of damaged marine ecosystems in the Philippines, in the replanting of corals, and in pioneering giant clam breeding and distribution of juveniles to restock reefs and provide alternative incomes for coastal communities.

He shepherded the world’s first national-scale assessment of damage to coral reefs, which brought widespread concern over the status of coral reefs worldwide. He also spearheaded the development of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines (UP-MSI), now regarded as an internationally renowned center of excellence which influenced the growth of marine science throughout Southeast Asia and placed the country on the global map for coral reef research.

Trono, Alcala, Barba, and Gomez were elected as Academicians by members of NAST PHL, an advisory body of DOST. They were later endorsed by NAST PHL to Pres. Aquino for the rank and title of National Scientist.

Since 1978, 41 Filipinos have been awarded the Order of National Scientist. Sixteen of them are still living. (S&T Media Service)

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