By Agence France-Presse SHILLONG, India--Three thousand Indian tribal chiefs in one of the world's wettest regions have invited ex-US vice president Al Gore to pick up an award for creating awareness about climate change. The prize will be presented on October 6 near Shillong, capital of northeastern Meghalaya state, at a ceremony expected to be attended by 300,000 people, organizers said. Top Indian economists and green campaigners are also likely to be present. "We were greatly inspired after watching Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' and decided to honor him for his concern about the dangers of climate change," federal lawmaker Robert Kharshiing told Agence France-Presse. "The award is to draw global attention to the serious problem of environmental changes facing the world today, including our own region that is located in the Himalayan belt," Kharshiing said. There was no word from Gore's office on whether he would turn up to receive the honor, which includes a certificate, a citation, traditional gifts and a small amount of cash. "We were told from Gore's office that he was humbled after hearing about the award," Kharshiing said. Local leaders say that two tiny Meghalaya villages, some of the world's rainiest places, were already bearing the brunt of climate change and now receive scant rains.
August 2007 Archives
By Agence France-Presse PARIS--An "ear of corn" may one day take on a whole new meaning after South Korean researchers determined that plants are sensitive to sound, New Scientist reports. They hope that farmers may eventually encourage plants to flower or ripen by blasting sound into the fields, the British weekly says in next Saturday's issue. Mi-Jeong Jeong of the National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology in Suwon and colleagues explored a long-standing hypothesis that, as plants react to light and also to touch, they may also respond to sound. The team set up rice plants in a lab and played them 14 pieces of classical music, including Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," and monitored various genes to see whether there was any change in activity. The music had no effect, but things changed when the researchers played the plants sounds at specific frequencies, New Scientist says. Two genes, called rbcS and Ald, became more active at 125 and 250 Hertz, and less active at 50 Hertz. Both genes are known to respond to light, so Jeong's team checked out what happened when the test was repeated in the dark -- and found that the two genes still responded to the sound. These genes could be used as sound-sensitive switches to turn on and off other genes that control key plant functions, the researchers hope. The research appears in a specialist journal, Molecular Breeding. It has been greeted skeptically by other specialists, who question the scale and methods of the experiment and the practicality of using sound in a rural setting, where wind would disrupt frequencies, New Scientist adds.
By Queena Lee-Chua Inquirer "EARLY in my working life i realized that I am not intellectually superior," says National Scientist Gelia T. Castillo. "But as a simple sociologist, I found comfort in the thought that science must serve a human purpose. This often means doing science from the ground up and then tapping into sophisticated tools to address problems. When doing workshops in rice breeding, drought, trees, weeds, malaria, or HIV-AIDS, I always look for the people factor. For example, in breeding rice, I ask questions like: For what? For whom? For where? For what purpose? These are all people issues." I am proud to call Gelia a friend. Her story "The Eloquence of Seeds," which shows her love for the natural world, is included in my book "Cogito Ergo Sum and Other Musings on Science," which won a National Book Award. Whatever Gelia may say, I affirm that she possesses not just intelligence, but wisdom as well. Take for instance, the fact that for scientists, progress is mainly counted by the number of journal publications; up to now, I still get a thrill when a paper has been accepted internationally. Gelia acknowledges this, but also adds, "Science pursued to address the problems of ordinary people often has other ways of communication than journals. When research fits into real life, the impact on human well-being makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes the proof of the pudding is in farmers' fields." Crossing disciplines When I began doing research in two fields, math education and psychology, some people said I had to choose only one of them. I tried my best to do so, but soon realized that the questions I wanted to answer, such as what kind of thinking processes are present in probability and statistics, or how to deal with gifted kids or slow learners, needed inputs from both disciplines. Happily, I learned that Gelia herself is proud to be interdisciplinary, and indeed, has been so for her entire career. Gelia talks about her working life with candor and wit. "I spent 40 years with the University of the Philippines (UP). What I loved best was that UP never interfered with my freedom to be and my freedom to do. This probably made up for the P18,000 salary of university professor I got when I retired." "But rice is my life. I have been a member of the board of trustees of Philrice for more than 20 years. I have survived four presidents and 10 department secretaries. How did I last so long? Since I am shy, I am probably regarded as harmless." Gelia has worked with international health and agricultural centers. "I learned about crops and genetic resources, but research is really about people even when the science focuses on commodities or nutrients. In health, I witnessed Nobel Laureates behave like ordinary mortals fighting the scourges of humanity, such as malaria and TB. They care for those who need care most. Science is their tool, but people are their driving force." Gelia has also evaluated several research programs, all of which promise to benefit the poor. However, "between promise and performance is a great distance." An exception is the International Development Research Center of Canada (IDRC), which "was not afraid to take risks in opening up new research platforms in developing countries." Gelia was on its board of governors. She laughs, "IDRC had an information sciences division before Bill Gates became a household name." Gelia is truly interdisciplinary. As a Ford Foundation program officer, Gelia has immersed herself in rural field work. Active in a micro-finance organization, she does not expect "to be acknowledged as a feminist among feminists," but her group has more than 300,000 women-members who have benefited from its activities. Lifetime responsibility "While being a National Scientist is a recognition," Gelia says, "it is also a lifetime responsibility to society. Values of science like intellectual honesty, objectivity, excellence, validity, innovativeness, systematic procedures and evidence-based conclusions are values which the rest of Filipino society can imbibe. These values are the opposite of what predominate in our country today. In science, we do not cheat because the truth will sooner or later come out." "Cogito Ergo Sum and Other Musings on Science," a collection of Filipino science poems, essays and stories, is available at the Ateneo University Press. E-mail email@example.com.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net AURORA Representative Juan Edgardo Angara recently filed House Bill 137 seeking to require specific tree planting plans on both public and private lands. Otherwise called the Tree for Legacy Act, HB 137 serves to improve forest management programs to sustain the country’s forest biodiversity. Angara in a statement explained that the bill is a response to the rapid reduction of Philippine forests, which by 2010 could only amount to 266,666 hectares or six percent of the country’s total land area. Angara cited reports from the non-government organization Haribon Foundation, which stated that the Philippine forest cover was at 21 million hectares during the 1990s. It was reduced to just 800,000 hectares by the turn of the decade. He also gathered information from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources citing at least 30 areas with denuded forests in the Philippines that are prone to landslides and flooding. "As a gross consequence, ecological and economic disasters have now become inevitable. It is very important in integrated watershed management," Angara said.
By Erwin Oliva INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines--A world-class science museum that will be built in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City will feature both science and technology, an executive said. A project of the Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc., the science museum will feature a "learning center" that will be both interactive and educational, said Manny Blas II, managing director of Fort Bonifacio Development Corp. Walking distance from Bonifacio High Street, the planned science museum will house a 3,000-square meter exhibit area, a food center, a training center, among others, said Maricel Garcia, science curator of the planned museum. "The technology that will be featured will be based on human values or the human ingenuity in technology," said Garcia. Also dubbed as a "Filipino Science Museum," it will feature stories of the universe, of nature, of life, and of the atom. "We will build the first world-class science museum because we believe this will have an impact on tourism, society, and the economy," said Blas II. The executive said that local studies have shown that science museums have raised awareness and improved learning on science and technology. He said that studies have shown that visitors were eventually hooked to science and technology after a visit, said Blas, citing the experience of the Philippine Science Centrum. Blas said the Mall of Asia is also planning to set up a science museum.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net PLANS of the Department of Energy (DOE) to reintroduce the use of nuclear energy is meeting staunch criticism from environmental and science activists. The Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM) and Greenpeace in separate statements argue that the Philippines is not ready to use nuclear energy, citing the potential cost of using such technology and the hazards that come with it. Instead, both groups suggest that the Philippines should use renewable forms of power, such as geothermal, natural gas, wind and hydroelectric, which they point out to be cheaper and safer. Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaign director Von Hernandez warned that the statements of DOE Secretary Angelo Reyes were “dangerous and misleading” and could cost the Philippines financially and environmentally. Hernandez also argued that Reyes should already have learned the lessons from the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which was one of the biggest financial losses of the Philippines during the era of former president Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s. Hernandez also argued that accidents in nuclear power plants have far more disastrous consequences. He cited the catastrophic Chernobyl meltdown in Russia and Japan’s Kashiwazaki nuclear incident after an earthquake. “Lest we forget our country is located in the typhoon belt and on the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire that makes it prone to extreme weather events and earthquakes. Combine this with our government’s inept capacity to maintain and enforce safety standards or environmental guidelines you have potential disaster in the making,” Hernandez said. Meanwhile, AGHAM national chairperson Giovanni Tapang in his statement criticized Congressman Mikey Arroyo, son of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a member of the congressional committee on energy, for planning to make revisions to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act in the hopes of hastening privatization of power generation. “With this, the people expect more of the same in power rates: ever increasing pass-on rates from the embedded purchased power adjustments and currency adjustments that has driven the prices of power to more than 10 pesos per kilowatt hour,” Tapang said. Tapang warned that the strategic importance of electric power and energy should not be put in the hands of private interests. "Privatization of electric power has resulted to increasing energy rates: this is our lesson from EPIRA. We should not try to accelerate privatization but rather we should stop and reverse it for our people to have a respite from the burden of high electric power rates", Tapang concluded. On August 19, President Arroyo ordered the DOE to further study the possibility of using nuclear energy.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE FILIPINO delegation to the 3rd International Mathematics Invitational Competition has garnered the most number of medals and awards in all the math competitions joined by the Philippines this year. Forty-four out of 59 Filipino elementary and high school students won a total of 11 gold, 12 silver, 21 bronze and 15 merit awards at the 3rd IMC held in Singapore on August 18. The Philippine team, trained by the Mathematics Trainers' Guild Philippines (MTG), competed against China, India, Malaysia and Singapore. The names and details regarding the 3rd IMC can be seen on the MTG website. In an interview with INQUIRER.net, MTG president Simon Chua said the Philippines was among the leaders in medals and awards won during the event, with China taking home the most. "According to the organizers, they gave 52 gold medals, more than 100 silver medals and more than 200 bronze medals. We're blessed because some of the other countries did not garner as much," Chua said. He noted that China sent over 226 students while Singapore had 346 elementary and high school students. Seventy percent of the contestants have the opportunity to be awarded with medals, though they have to meet the cut-off score specified by the organizer, which is the Beijing Hecate Center of Cultural Communication. The contest was divided into three parts, with 10 multiple choice, 10 fill in the blanks, and three problem-solving questions that required a presented solution. The contest aims to promote mathematics awareness and encourage young people to take the subject seriously. The contest is also a step in preparing for the prestigious International Mathematics Olympiad.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net AS more environmental advocates voice their concerns regarding alleged ecological degradation, environmental groups are warning that they will become the targets of corporations with the use of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) noted in a statement that mining firms and landowning families, in particular, are able to stifle opposition. A SLAPP is a form of litigation by a wealthier group to silence less financially-capable critics. Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said several non-government environmental advocates are facing SLAPP lawsuits filed by firms allegedly violating environmental laws. Among those slapped with libel and conspiracy lawsuits are Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines executive director Frances Quimpo, who is facing a P10-million libel suit filed by Australian mining firm Lafayette Philippines Inc; and Ifugao leaders of the Kasibu Inter-tribal Response Towards Ecological Development who are threatened with arrest for opposing the entry of mining firm Oxiana Philippines and its Australian partner RoyalCo, Ltd. Two other persons, Pinoy Weekly reporter Ilang-Ilang Quijano and toxicologist Romeo Quijano, have been slapped with a civil case by Lapanday Agricultural and Development Corp. and are awaiting a verdict. "Environmental groups in other countries have faced SLAPPs by commercial real estate developers, companies, and the like. In the Philippines, these entities using SLAPPs are usually foreign-owned mining or logging firms or elite land-owning families who control and extract resources from vast tracts of lands," Bautista said. In support of environmental groups, Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño said he plans to file a bill banning the use of SLAPP litigation in the country.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net ENVIRONMENTALIST group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) warned that that the Japan Philippine Economic Parntership Agreement (JPEPA) would cause more harm to the Philippines' marine reserves and ecosystems, particularly since the trade agreement allows more exports of marine products such as tuna. Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said Japan is one of the biggest markets for fish and JPEPA could open doors to exploitation of marine resources, as well as agricultural products, minerals and energy. Citing a report by the Japan Tuna Federation, Bautista said Japan consumes 630,000 tons of tuna per year or 11 pounts per person. "We fear the shrinking catch qoutas will prompt Japan to move more of its giant fishing fleets to exploit Philippine seas and further deplete our country's fish sources and marine ecosystems. When Japanese transnational fishing companies corner the country's tuna resources through the JPEPA, we are sure that many other forms of resource depletion and marine environmental degradtion will follow," Bautista said. Bautista also warned that poor fishing villages, particularly in Mindanao would be incapable of buying fish as they compete with bigger 8,000-ton fishing fleets. "Fish provides 60 percent of food protein source for the average Filipino diet," Bautista said. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed JPEPA last September 2006 but the agreement has yet to be ratified by the Senate. Critics of JPEPA have contended that it could open the Philippines to Japanese waste imports, which is indicated in Article 29 of the agreement.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net EXPERTS from the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and several state colleges and universities are working to improve the Philippine organic agriculture industry and create a research and development extension program on organic agriculture. The agencies met during the recently held National Consultation Workshop on Organic Agriculture S&T Framework and Specific RDE Program fro 200702010 last July 26 and 27. The workshop includes organizing different activities into coherent focused strategic programs, most importantly the priority projects and roles of stakeholders in pushing and promoting organic agriculture. An organic agriculture S&T framework is hoped to increase the country’s food production. Organic agriculture relies largely on conventional farming techniques without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms. The plan is to get R&D partners, especially farmers and agricultural experts to participate in crafting the S&T framework for organic agriculture. A previous project by the DOST’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) is the Investment Package for the Commercial Production of Organic Fertilizer, which hopes to provide information to potential entrepreneurs on organic fertilizer enterprise investments. PCARRD has already started organic vegetable production in Ilocos Norte and La Union.
By Agence France-Presse WASHINGTON--Damage to the US space shuttle Endeavour's protective thermal shield caused by a piece of debris during launch appears to be less serious than previously believed, a NASA official said. But astronauts will go ahead with a scheduled inspection, during which the protective shield will be examined with the help of a laser attached to Endeavour's robotic arm, said John Shannon, a mission manager, during a press conference late Saturday. Video footage of Wednesday's launch showed a piece of foam detaching from the external fuel tank, according to Shannon. That piece of foam which could also have been covered with ice hit the shuttle, damaging its protective tiles. But since foam is lighter than ice, Shannon continued, damage was likely less serious. "I think we will have a final resolution on Monday when we do the thermo analysis," Shannon said. "The consensus in the mission management team is -- considering the flight history we had, the location of it -- all are very good signs that it will not be something that we will have to be worried about," the official said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE DEPARTMENT of Science and Technology Science Education Institute (DoST-SEI) is calling on public elementary school teachers to be part of an online training program to improve their teaching capabilities in Mathematics and Science, according to a statement by the DoST. The training is the third conducted by the DoST-SEI, with the first having been held in 2005, it said. The third e-training on Mathematics and Science will begin this October and will end July 2008, it said. The subjects to be covered in the training include Elementary Mathematics and Science from Grades Three to Six, it said. In a phone interview, DoST-SEI Director Esther Ogena said the e-training was part of an ongoing project to deliver continuous learning for public elementary school teachers. She said that for this training period, they have allotted 450 slots for teachers compared to about 300 in the previous training sessions. "We want to cover more teachers this year. Hopefully, these Math and Science teachers would also share their knowledge to other teachers," Ogena said. Ogena noted that the Department of Education was part of the group that helped in developing the materials for the e-training. She also noted that the DoST-SEI would be spending about P1 million for the entire e-training until October next year. Teachers who will be part of the training will have other benefits, such as the waiving of their P6,000 training fee, free materials, a monthly allowance of P500 for Internet connection, and roundtrip transportation expenses for on-site orientation sessions and examinations, said Ogena. Likewise, the DoST-SEI is also subsidizing half the cost of the computers if the teachers would buy the equipment they would be using during the training. "The cost of an entire computer is roughly P16,000 but we have a special arrangement with the Department of Budget and Management that would allow a teacher to buy the PC at just P7, 600," Ogena said. Ogena added that during the training, the University of Santo Tomas would provide the system maintenance. More information about the e-training program is available at www.e-training.ph.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net "THE PROBLEM is that an integrated plan (on climate change) does not yet exist," according to World Wildlife Fund Philippines climate change officer Rean Tirol, referring to a set of strategies to manage the effects of the drastically changing climate. Tirol, in a statement, cited a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that up to 30 percent of plant and animal species could be extinct even with a temperature change of just 2 degrees Celsius. Moreover, the increase in temperature could affect people from rising sea water as the polar ice melts. "China has released its Climate Change National Action Plan last month. The Chinese government has formally acknowledged its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through a cut of energy consumption by 20 percent per unit of its Gross Domestic Product by 2010. They have made their stand clear, and it’s high time we did the same… We need a local, country-wide integrated plan to deal with its effects," Tirol said. Tirol added that lack of an integrated plan to address the local effects of climate change, as well as the reshuffling of former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Angelo Reyes to the Department of Energy, could exacerbate the problem. Tirol was referring to the latest reports from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, which indicated recent weather-related problems such as the dry spell in Luzon and heavy rains and flooding in Visayas and Mindanao. Tirol also said that other problems needing attention are freshwater contamination by saltwater during high tides, coral bleaching, higher incidence of red tide, forest fires, droughts, soil erosion, and higher incidence of crop pests and diseases. "Aside from adapting to climate change, the government has to ensure that our economic growth does not significantly contribute to the problem. The passing of the Renewable Energy Law and the installation of new Renewable Energy Capacity need to be the top priority in the administration's Energy Agenda," Tirol said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net VIRGIN coconut oil (VCO) is now such a buzzword in the health and beauty industry that the Department of Science and Technology–Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development (PCIERD) is setting its sights on providing the most accurate information regarding the supposed benefits gathered from VCO. Acting on numerous stories and unverified claims, the DOST-PCIERD would conduct a series of research and development activities that would take up the different health aspects of VCO. The DOST-PCIERD has partnered with the Philippine Coconut Authority, the Bureau of Food and Drugs and VCO producers for this program. The process, which would take about three years, is more to safeguard the quality of VCO, validating health claims and sustaining the growth of the industry. VCO is basically unrefined coconut oil extracted from the fresh flesh of coconut (thus, the term "virgin"). Although it is nothing new, the last several years have seen a revival in consumption of VCO primarily due to claims of therapeutic benefits. Apart from directly consuming VCO, some entrepreneurs have created "flavored" VCOs while others have incorporated VCO as ingredients of soaps, shampoos, gels and other lotions. On the other hand, no health agency has openly approved the supposed health claims coming from consuming VCO. The VCO revival was claimed to have started in the Philippines when producers in Luzon started marketing their products to the US. From a low of 800 kilos in 2000, the demand expanded to 19 metric tons in 2002. In 2005, 200 VCO producers said an approximate 250 to 300 metric tons are delivered to the US per month. A statement from the Virgin Coconut Oil Producers and Traders Association also noted that their products is slowly becoming used as alternative food supplement in other countries and a trial order 15,000 to 17,000 kilos of VCO is ready for potential buyers. Because of the huge potential of the VCO business, the DOST-PCIERD is concerned about unscrupulous businessmen who would mass produce VCO without the proper processes that could compromise quality of the product. Without any standardization and review of the claims, the problem could become a repeat of the failed nata de coco industry wherein some businessmen produced fake or low-quality nata de coco. Among the activities that the DOST and its partners are starting to conduct include a scientific basis on the processing of VCO. While there are existing standards for coconut oil production, the DOST aims to reformulate the standards to ensure production of high quality VCO. Another activity to be undertaken is substantiating health claims from VCO consumption. The DOST’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development is taking the lead in reviewing these claims. It would document and do clinical testing on these claims, among which includes benefits for people with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory and skin diseases and immune effects. A third program is establishing technical support industries for the Philippine VCO producers, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the demise of the nata de coco industry several years ago. As such, the DOST is working with other DOST sub-agencies to create support facilities and assistance to VCO producers. The DOST sub-agencies involved in this particular program are the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, and the National Academy of Science and Technology NAST. The three partners would work on biochemical studies, proficiency tests for VCO, strategic positioning of VCO processing plants in major coconut growing areas in the country, by-product utilization, and environmental management systems for small-to-medium scale business. For this entire endeavor, the DOST-PCIERD also tapped other organizations to provide technical assistance. These are the Industrial Technology Development Institute, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development, and the National Research Council of the Philippines.