Saturday, May 28, 2016

UP Manila 2013 Commencement Speech CCB

2013 Commencement Exercises
University of the Philippines Manila 
19 April 2013, Philippine International Convention Center 
Dr. Christopher C. Bernido 

Honorable Members of the Board of Regents, Dr. Manuel B. Agulto, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Manila, faculty members and officials of UP Manila, the 2013 graduates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. 
  It is indeed an honor to be asked to be a speaker for the 2013 Commencement Exercises of the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila knowing that your campus is the birthplace and cradle of the University of the Philippines System when it was founded in 1908. Allow me, therefore, to congratulate the 2013 graduates who survived the rigors of UP the past four years or more. 

Graduation from UP Manila for most of you is just the beginning of a rich, exciting, and full life. As graduates of a premier university, you have received among the best quality education possible within our country. You have been given the privilege to interact with the country’s best and brightest. I believe, however, that the feeling of fullness and richness in life would not be complete if, at the end of the day, we are not able to help others. There will always be a point in time when you ask the question: what have I been doing with my life? Whether an “iskolar ng bayan” or not, it would be good and wise to give back to the country which has sustained and nurtured you up to this point. But what is really required of us to be able to effectively give back and offer something to our motherland? Whether we are doing something small and ordinary, or trying to accomplish big tasks, it helps to remember two things: “preparation” and “anticipation”. Prepare yourself to become what you are capable of being. Anticipate the ever-changing landscape by analysing how our global society is evolving. As has been often said, success comes to those who are ready when opportunity knocks. 
  In order to prepare ourselves and anticipate what could lie ahead, allow me to put things into perspective and mention where we stand in the global scenario. Since UP Manila is regarded as the Philippines’ leading health university that seeks to improve the health of Filipinos by providing the highest quality of advanced instruction, professional training, research, and community service, let me give an example that could impact the health sciences in the coming decades. 
The Philippines is in a region regarded by marine biologists as the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity. The island province of Bohol, especially near Panglao Island, has been referred to as the “center of the center of biodiversity”. There is a lot of first rate research that could be done given this marine biodiversity if only Filipino scientists are capable of doing it. For example, thousands of new pharmaceutical drugs can possibly be synthesized and manufactured from the venom of cone snails inhabiting the Panglao island area. From each species of predatory cone snails, around 100 to 200 different peptide-rich venom (conotoxins) components can be extracted and tested. By 2006, around six different conotoxins have reached human clinical trials. One of these conotoxins has been synthesized and commercialized as a drug which is stronger than morphine, but non-addictive. 
There are around 700 species of predatory cone snails, each species containing 100 to 200 types of conotoxins. This implies there could be more than 70,000 pharmaceutical drugs waiting to be discovered. One could imagine how these drugs could impact the health sciences in the coming decades. However, although these cone snails can be harvested from our shores, most of the in-depth research all the way to commercialization of synthesized drugs is done abroad. The Philippines has the natural marine resources, but we are not able to maximize this opportunity since our country does not have the critical number of experts and scientists. We have not been able to prepare nor anticipate such types of opportunities. 
Another instance when we had to rely on foreign scientists and experts to harvest this God-given treasure within our country occurred in 2004 and 2005. In 2004, a team of 30 marine scientists, technicians and fishing masters from France, Singapore, Taiwan, Russia and Philippines gathered 1,200 species of decapod crustacean, and 6,000 species of mollusk specimens, many new to science. In 2005, they collected twenty drums of specimens representing several thousands of mollusk species, 600 species of crustaceans, over a hundred species of echinoderms, etc. This harvest, however, had to be shipped abroad for further analysis and classification since apparently the Philippines does not have the expertise to do it. 
For our country to be competitive in the 21st century, therefore, a crucial target for the Philippines in the next ten years would be: capacity building in interdisciplinary research. This target appears simple, but somehow, for a country of 95 million people, we are way below international standards. For example, of the total scientific papers published in the world from 1991 to 2010 (ISI indexed), only 0.025% of this comes from the Philippines. In contrast, Australia with a population of 22 million, produces about 3 % of the world’s scientific output. Even Singapore, which has a population of around 5 million, has a scientific output almost 10 times more than the Philippines. Clearly, our universities and our country need to level up in research and innovation at the international level since even worldwide ranking of universities puts a heavy weight on research output. 
Allow me to briefly discuss the keywords in our target: capacity building in interdisciplinary research. 

(1) Interdisciplinary Research. This means that problems involving the life sciences, food supply, environment, renewable sources of energy, industry and economy, etc. would have to be attacked from different disciplines. Input and expertise from different disciplines are crucial. Today, problems in finance and industry are being investigated, not only by economists, but also by mathematicians, physicists, and even engineers and computer scientists. For research done at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños –  an institution tasked to study ways of efficiently feeding the hungry world – investigations are at the genetic level done by Ph.D.’s in microbiology, mathematics, physics, biochemistry, engineering, among others. To understand the human brain and the diseases which afflict it, we need chemists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, biochemists and biologists. Indeed, research and innovation today is done at a very high and sophisticated level often quite inaccessible to those who did not train and prepare for it. 

(2)  Capacity Building. To innovate and create new knowledge has a price especially in the 21st century. It is important to always remember that you cannot give what you do not have. Looking at the lives of great innovators, one notices that they had actually mastered their profession first before they were able to innovate. Looking at the works of the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso who co-founded cubism, one sees that his earlier paintings exhibited his classical training in the arts. He mastered the craft first before he innovated and introduced a new form of art. It is the same for problems in the 21st century. We cannot improve rice production by leaps and bounds if we cannot understand rice production at the genetic level. If one does not develop oneself, then one can probably innovate only at the tricycle level or jeepney level, but not innovations at the cellphone level.  Thus, to have impact in interdisciplinary research, one should master first a particular discipline or profession. This implies that, if possible, you go for a Ph.D. degree. If the aim is to contribute and systematically search for a cure for cancer, one may have to pursue a doctoral degree in Biochemistry, or a combined M.D.-Ph.D. degree, or even perhaps a doctorate in Computer Science. Given the good foundation as graduates of UP Manila, you are therefore encouraged to go further, to go higher as God would permit.

Aside from the creativity needed to produce new knowledge and new paradigms that impact the lives of others, you – the younger generation – should also possess the discipline, stamina, and passion for our country to be competitive in the 21st century: the discipline to develop yourself as far as you can in your area of interest; the stamina to go the distance and finish what you have started; and the passion to achieve which will allow you to overcome obstacles and challenges along the way. 
Moreover, as graduates of a top university in our country you should exhibit leadership instead of just following what is fashionable. Lead the way in creating things never before seen by human eyes, nor heard by human ears. 
It is good to develop yourself so that you can be what you are capable of being, but always keep in mind that there is always something bigger than yourself. There is always something bigger than all of us. Try to always remember the hierarchy of values: God, country, family. Reversal of this hierarchy has often led to misery, not only at the family level, but also as a nation. If you put family first before country, you could always rationalize robbing the government so that your family can live comfortably. If you put family above country, subtly, it would be easy for you to migrate and close your eyes to our country’s suffering. We recall how, for example, between 2003 and 2004, the shortage of nurses and doctors forced 200 Philippine hospitals to close down. 
I have high regard and high hopes for UP Manila faculty, students and staff, because the structure to help others already exists here. It is in UP Manila that one can observe the best and brightest students in the country serving the poor and marginalized at the Philippine General Hospital which is the country’s biggest government tertiary hospital. It is also a credit to the UP Manila Health Sciences Center to have responded to the massive brain drain of health professionals. UP Manila is the first higher learning institution in the Philippines to implement a Return Service Agreement for its graduates which takes effect in 2015 for graduates of pharmacy, nursing and dentistry. 
The framework to serve the nation is there. But it is the structure of the heart of each graduate today that I hope would imbibe the hierarchy: God, country, family, as we pursue capacity building in interdisciplinary research for a strong Philippines in the coming decade. Remember, the future belongs to you, but you should prepare well for it. 
        Thank you.

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