PSciJourn-Philippine-Chinese Charitable Association sign MOA for discounted medical services

The Philippine Science Journalist Association Inc. (PSciJourn) and the Philippine-Chinese Charitable Association recently entered into an agreement to provide charitable medical services to working science journalists.

PSciJourn president Angelo Palmones, who is also DZMM’s station manager, and Dr. James Dy, president and chairman of the board of the Philippine-Chinese Charitable Association, signed the memorandum agreement (MOA) in behalf of their organizations. The signing ceremony was held at the conference hall of the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center.

The two parties have agreed that in the event of medical emergency affecting the PSciJoun members, the Philippine-Chinese Charitable Association shall administer diagnosis and treatment to the journalists, including major surgeries at the Philippine-Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center in Manila.

The medical center shall provide 50-percent discount on room charges and 30-percent discount on laboratory, pulmonary and x-ray services upon presentation of proof that the patient is a PSciJourn member.

The MOA is valid for one year subject to renewal as may be agreed by both parties.


Dr. James Dy (left), president and chairman of the board of the Philippine-Chinese Charitable Association Inc., and Angelo Palmones, PSciJourn president, shake hands after signing the memorandum of agreement for discounted medical services for science journalists.


Icrisat’s Dr. Dar: Biofuels has to be science-based

“Biofuels development has to be science-based.”

Dr. William Dar, director general of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), issued this statement amid the current debate on the country’s biofuels program.

“We support biofuels development in the country but let’s be sure that we are not compromising food security and environmental security,” Dar, a former Agriculture secretary of the Philippines, said.

“The government has to accelerate its effort in significantly supporting research and development in biofuels. Strategic communication is part of this,” he added.

Dar gave the statement as the word war between Sens. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri on the government’s biofuels program intensifies.

Zubiri, who authored the Biofuels Act in the House of Representatives, challenged opposers of the Philippines’ biofuels program to a debate after visiting 1998 Nobel Prize winner for   chemistry Dr. Harmut Michel said that biofuels development would be counterproductive because it would produce little energy compared with renewable sources like wind power.

Santiago said it was “rude and peevish” of Zubiri to attack Nobel Prize laureates.

“To anyone with a proper sense of humility, in case of doubt, the presumption should be in favor of the opinion of a Nobel laureate in science. The debate on food versus fuel is not political or legal, but scientific,” Santiago, the main author of the law in the Senate, said.

The Philippines enacted the Biofuels Act of 2006, which provides that two years after its effectivity gasoline should have a minimum of 5-percent bioethanol, and after four years, at least 10-percent blend. For biodiesel, a minimum of 1-percent blend to diesel engine fuels is required within three months from its effectivity, and at least 2 percent after two years of its effectivity.

It aims to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuel, and provide cheaper and more environment-friendly source of fuel.

The government is encouraging the massive cultivation of jatropha as a source of biodiesel. Dar said that Icrisat supports the development of biodiesel from jatropha “but it has to be systematically domesticated and improved including management options through research and development.”

“As of now, it’s too early for jatropha to be promoted for commercial block plantation,” Dar stressed.

“In the Philippines, the science of cultivating jatropha must first be established through agricultural research before going into mass propagation,” Dar said in a statement.

“Domestication, crop improvement, pruning techniques and best agronomic practices must be developed to harness the full potential of the crop. Large-scale jatropha plantations should be promoted only after the crop is scientifically studied to optimize its potential for viable biodiesel production.”

Dar pointed out that “smart crops”—those that are sustainable and not compromise food and environmental security—should considered in developing biofuels.

He cited that for bioethanol, corn is not a smart crop because it compromises food security. One example of smart crop is sweet sorghum, he said.

The properties of sweet sorghum are:

— It is drought-tolerant and an efficient water-user. It only needs one-seventh of the average water requirement of sugarcane.

— It also produces more energy than it consumes. For every unit of fossil fuel energy it

consumes, sweet sorghum produces eight units and can go as high as 12 to 16 units in temperate areas. The only other crop that matches this is sugar cane, which produces 8.3 units of energy for every unit consumed.

— Studies have also shown that sweet sorghum is carbon dioxide neutral, emitting only as much carbon dioxide as it absorbs. The emission and absorption is at 45 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare of sweet sorghum.

— It also provides additional income for farmers, even while they can keep the grain for food or the market. ICRISAT estimates that by planting sweet sorghum instead of grain sorghum, dry-land farmers can earn an additional $40 to $97 per hectare per crop. Thus, it has an immense global potential in alleviating poverty, considering that farmers grow regular sorghum over 11 million hectares in Asia and 23.4 million hectares in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dar pointed out that “investing in biofuels is not counterproductive and will not adversely affect the country’s ability to produce its own food.”

“We have proven this at ICRISAT and farmers’ fields in India, where the biofuel feedstocks we are producing are environment-friendly, provide additional income to farmers, and do not compromise food security. We have developed several sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids with higher sugar content,” he said.

ICRISAT’s “Agri-Business Incubator” inked in October 2006 a partnership with Indian company, Rusni Distilleries, to set up a $1a-million ethanol processing facility that produces 40,000 liters per day of bio-ethanol from sweet sorghum, benefiting more than 3,000 farmers.

He disclosed that five Philippine investors have also signed up with ICRISAT and Rusni to pursue the same approach in the country.

PREGINET: DOST’s existing broadband network

The controversial national broadband network (NBN) project with the Chinese firm ZTE has been hogging the headlines, what with exposés of anomaly and corruption allegedly involving some Cabinet and other ranking government officials, and the President’s husband.

But behind the din of Senate investigation on the issue that has become a high-rating teledrama is an existing government broadband project that failed to catch similar big public’s attention—except for its beneficiaries—in the past seven years that it has been existing.

PREGINET, or Philippine Research Education and Government Information Network, is a nationwide broadband network that interconnects academic institutions, government offices, and research and development (R&D) offices in the country.

It is currently serving 76 institutions: 14 universities, 28 research institutions, 33 government offices and one nongovernment organization.

Humble beginnings

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) started in 1994 the vision that was to become PREGINET when it provided seed money to a university consortium to set up, operate and maintain a domestic wide-area network called the Phnet.

For the first time, university-consortium members and the country became connected to the Internet. Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) came in afterwards, spurred by the introduction of the technology. It has since become the fertile training ground for the country’s Internet engineers.

The DOST, with the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) as implementer, moved a step closer to its research and development (R&D) vision by spearheading the development of the country’s next-generation Internet.

Through the Asian Internet Interconnection Initiatives (AI3) project it was initially funded with P5.5 million and provided connectivity to global-research and education networks.

In June 2000, DOST cashed in P24 million for the first year to what was termed “high-performance research and education network”—the PREGINET.

“Currently, the concept of a research and education network is relatively new in the Philippines, and its potential to contribute to innovation research collaborations is a target that ASTI-PREGINET hopes to meet,” ASTI director Dennis Villorente told PSciJourn News Service.

Functions and purpose

According to ASTI, one of the objectives of PREGINET is the establishment of exchange points for research, education and government institutions. It facilitates interchange of research information, research and training, collaboration, and access to international databases.

It is also a venue to demonstrate novel applications in the areas of e-commerce, agriculture, telemedicine, distance education, digital libraries, information dissemination, hazards and disaster monitoring, prediction, warning and mitigation, delivery of government services and information to citizens and business.

The originally five-year project is on its third expansion period. With a total cost of P79 million, it is implemented in partnership with the Commission on Information and Communications Technology Telecommunications Office (CICT-Telof).


PREGINET’s backbone currently consists of three exchange points located in Quezon City, Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City. Links are then provided from the backbone to at least one access point per region.

It uses the Visayas-Mindanao Telecommunications Office Network of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to interconnect institutions in Iloilo, Cebu, Tacloban, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Iligan, Cotabato and Davao.

Private-sector support is also maximized through its partnership with private telecommunications companies. The Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) is one international organization that supports PREGINET.

The project also provides value to the academic, research and government institutions in four areas: connectivity, communication, content and community. ASTI, in cooperation with the DOST regional offices and DOTC-Telof, manages the network. ASTI also establishes, monitors and maintains the PREGINET national backbone up to the regional access points, and maintains central database of all ongoing projects.

Philippine Open Internet Exchange

The Philippine Open Internet Exchange (PhOpenIX), a component of PREGINET, is an open-to-all, carrier-neutral Ipv4 and Ipv6 multilateral-peering exchange and a nonprofit membership-based exchange. It is managed and operated by ASTI.

The I-Root server is now operational and answering DNS Top Level Domain queries on the exchange. This is made possible through the partnership with Packet Clearing House (PCH), APNIC and Autonomica/Netnod.

With partnership with operators, the exchange will have an instance of the I-Root server directly available at the IX core switch. The I-Root server incorporates IP anycast technology. It uses routing topology to send Internet traffic to the nearest or best destination.

This leads to better distribution of services and improves response times for end users which means faster resolution of fully qualified domain names to IP addresses for the Philippines.

Besides DOST-ASTI, the PhOpenIX is supported by the CICT, Philippine Network Operators Group, Innove Communications Inc., Cisco and PCH.

Cost recovery and sustainability

Although funding for PREGINET is ending on December 31, 2007, ASTI has formulated a plan that would continue and support its activities with minimal funding support from the DOST.

The PhOpenIX will carry on with its operations and expand its community. According to the PhOpenIX website, ASTI will continue to host an instance of the I-Root server ( in Manila. The installation was assisted by operators from PCH and APNIC.

Among the enhancements they would carry include network sustainability, grid computing facility, IPv6 inter-network test bed and more collaboration with local universities.

Institutions connected to the system would form part of the cost-recovery scheme and sustainability of the project. — PSciJourn News Service

One billion poor people at risk: Climate change and desertification

There are one billion poor people in the world who are vulnerable to climate change, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and shortage of fossil fuels.India alone accounts for 25.93 percent of this population and China 16.66 percent. The remaining part of Asia and Pacific accounts for 18.30 percent.

In short, Asia is a hub where the poor, undernourished and the vulnerable live. This is followed by sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 23.94 percent of the one billion.

The other parts of the world are not far behind, with Latin America and the Caribbean accounting for 6.22 percent and the North East and North Africa 4.57 percent.

According to Dr William Dar, director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the chairman of the Committee for Science and Technology of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the poor can be made less vulnerable with greater science and knowledge-based interventions, and, more importantly, significant donor support from the developed and developing countries to support this research.

“Business as usual will not help us meet the Millennium Development Goals and much more the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015,” Dr. Dar said.

Many parts of the world are already showing signs of physical water scarcity—India, eastern Australia, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, parts of southern Africa, southern US and northern Mexico. With greater demands from other sectors, the water availability for agriculture is getting limited.

“The nexus of climate change and desertification, combined with land degradation, biodiversity loss, water shortage and fossil fuel shortage, will make it even more risky for the farmers to farm in the dry lands of the world. They will find it more difficult to invest in farming, and there could be more diseases and death” said Dr Dar.

ICRISAT believes that unless the livelihoods and resource base of such vulnerable rural communities can be made more resilient, coping with climate change and desertification may be next to impossible for poor dry-land farming communities.

Working over decades with poor farmers in the dry lands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, ICRISAT’s research shows that a combined effort to deal with current climate uncertainty, land degradation and water scarcity is the only way by which the resilience of these communities can be brought about.

ICRISAT’s research is achieving this through improved climate variability analysis, projects to overcome land degradation and water scarcity, use of improved crop management options, improved crop breeding and a pro-poor BioPower strategy.

With improved tools becoming available in studying climate uncertainty, it has now become possible for decision-makers and investors to formulate a development agenda integrating short-, medium- and long-term timeframes.

ICRISAT’s integrated climate-risk assessment and management framework enables investors (governments, donors, researchers or farmers) to understand better the risks and opportunities, and get greater returns from more diversified and targeted investments.

Land degradation, which is a persistent problem in the dry lands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, can be further worsened by climate change and desertification. ICRISAT has been working with partners for years on combating land degradation in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It has been working on programs such as the Desert Margins Program, fertilizer microdosing and Drylands Eco-Farm to help fight land degradation in the sub-Saharan Africa.

These projects diversify the basket of crops and livestock systems, and provide appropriate dosage of fertilizers to crops, to strengthen the resilience of the agro-ecosystems.

In Asia, ICRISAT’s watershed-development program overcomes both land degradation and water scarcity through judicious soil and management practices. This, when supported by improved agronomic practices and integration with livestock systems, enables the farmers to overcome the immediate problems of climate uncertainty and desertification.

Based on its work in the drylands it has proved that farmers can increase their productivity four-fold and profits three-fold, using improved management options, including use of water-efficient crops. There is also high carbon sequestration as a result of improving dryland systems with technologies.

All these activities are strengthened with ICRISAT’s crop-improvement research through which scientists continuously work to breed crop varieties and hybrids that are more drought, pest and disease tolerant

These new varieties strengthen the hands of farmers to deal with climate change and desertification. ICRISAT released the world’s first pigeonpea hybrids based on the cytoplasmic male sterility system. The hybrids developed at ICRISAT have shown 30 percent- to 150 percent-yield advantage. The hybrids also produce 30 percent to 40 percent more root mass that makes them more drought resistant.

The adoption of hybrid technology has been rapid. The yield advantages of hybrids and the ease in their seed production have convinced the seed producers and at present 22 private and three public seed companies have adopted the technology.

In 2007, a total of 250,000 kg of hybrid seed is being produced. This will bring about 50,000 ha land under hybrid cultivation. Using the molecular-marker-assisted selection and breeding method ICRISAT developed the HHB 67-2 pearl millet hybrid, which can withstand downy mildew disease, which devastates pearl millet crops in the Northern Indian states of Haryana and Rajasthan.

When there is no natural resistance in crops to pests or diseases, ICRISAT has been developing transgenic crops with genes for resistance from outside the crop’s gene pool.

Under contained field trials are ICRISAT-bred transgenic groundnut for resistance to the Indian Peanut Clump Virus, transgenic pigeonpea and transgenic chickpea with resistance to Helicoverpa armigera. With the skyrocketing of fossil fuel prices, ICRISAT has initiated a pro-poor BioPower strategy.

Through this BioPower strategy ICRISAT works on generating biodiesel from jatropha and pongamia in the wastelands of the villages. ICRISAT and GTZ have has also initiated a public-private partnership with Southern Online Biotech and farmers.

ICRISAT scientists bred sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids that have higher sugar content in the juice in their stalks. Through the Agri-Business Incubator it partnered with Rusni Distilleries which established a distillery to convert sweet sorghum juice to ethanol. In June 2007 the plant produced world’s first ethanol from sweet sorghum.

The beauty of ICRISAT-bred sweet sorghum is that while farmers get additional income from the juice in the stalk, they still continue to get the sorghum grains. ICRISAT’s package empowers the farmers to meet the present-day uncertainties, so they can meet the future climate change and also reverse desertification as it happens. — ICRISAT/PSciJourn News Service

Boosting S&T via 47% DOST budget increase

From a shoestring budget of P920 million in 1990 to a staggering P5.29 billion in 2008, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is now making its presence felt.

The 2008 proposed budget was approved without difficulty by the stringent House of Representatives committees when other departments have experienced agonizing cuts. At the helm of the DOST is Secretary Estrella Alabastro, the first woman to handle the science portfolio, an original member of the Arroyo cabinet.

The Science department’s 2007 budget was P3.6 billion, which was increased by 47 percent for next year’s P5.29 billion budget.

According to the DOST budget proposal, there shall be increased budget for its four major thrusts: diffusion of knowledge and technologies, generation of new knowledge and technologies, development of human resources for the scientific and technological (S&T) sector, and provision of quality S&T services.

Executive Order 128 mandates the DOST “to provide central direction, leadership and coordination of scientific and technological efforts, and ensure that the results therefrom are geared and utilized in areas of maximum economic and social benefits for the people.”

The DOST has seven research and development (R&D) institutes, six service institutes, five sectoral planning councils and two collegial bodies. The Philippine Atmospheric and Geosciences and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and the Philippine Science High School System are but three of the six DOST service institutes.

Of the P5.29-billion approved amount, the DOST explained that the 47-percent increase would go to 2 percent increase for personnel services (PS), 53 percent for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), and 147 percent for capital outlay, where modern equipment are necessary for the efficient delivery of its services.

Where is RP in S&T ranking?

As reported by the UNESCO, developing countries allocated 1 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) for R&D. But according to a 2003 government data, the Philippines has only spent 0.14 percent of its GDP for R&D—30 percent from government sector with the bigger 70 percent coming from private sector initiative.

The UNESCO also reported that the average for developing countries is 380 R&D personnel for every one million population. Then again, according to the 2003 data there were only 164 R&D personnel for every million Filipino population; that also included scientists, engineers, technicians and auxiliary personnel.

Credible studies say that the Philippines has yet to achieve a high level of technological readiness and innovative capacity that typifies well-developed economies and those entering the developed phase like India.

The 2006-2007 Global Competitiveness Report places the Philippines in the 71st ranking out of 125 countries in terms of technological readiness or ability to adopt technologies from home or abroad to enhance the productivity of its industries.

This is in contrast with the high rankings of the country’s Asian neighbors like Singapore (second), Hong Kong (13th), Korea (18th), Japan (19th), Malaysia (28th) and Thailand (48th).

In the area of innovation or the ability to produce brand-new technologies, the country ranks a dismal 79th. Compared with emerging innovation powerhouses in the Asean like Singapore (ninth), Malaysia (21st), Indonesia (37th) and Thailand (33rd), the Philippines clearly has a lot of catching up to do in terms of innovation.

Where are we going?

According to the DOST, diffusion of knowledge and technologies is one of its four major thrusts. There is the Small Enterprise Upgrading Program (SETUP) that helps enhance the competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises through technological interventions. The Techno Gabay Program, on the other hand, includes the Farmer’s Information Technology Service (FITS) Center targeting over 70,000 clients in 2008.

Lastly, the Technology Commercialization Program contains Technology Innovation for Commercialization (TECHNICOM), Establishment of Technology Business Incubation and Support to Inventors.

For generating new knowledge and technologies, the science department hopes to strengthen R&D in the areas of biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), environment, alternative energy, health/medicinal products, and other projects.

The conduct of contract researches with the private sector addresses specific needs in technological upgrading, product enhancement and an overall increase in productivity. In 2008, the department hopes to achieve 175 projects in the areas of food processing, nutritional products, ICT, environment, wood processing, nuclear services and metalwork.

Developing human resources is another thrust of the department. It aims to accelerate the production of high-level S&T human resources, especially in R&D. It has programs for MS and PhD scholarships, undergraduate and secondary scholarships. It also has the accelerated human resource development program that has awarded 213 MS and 16 PhD scholarships in science and engineering. It has an allocation of P175M in 2008.

The DOST also promises to provide quality S&T services on testing and calibration, disaster preparedness and mitigation, and information.

In broad strokes, the science department tries to realize the objectives of the National Science and Technology Plan for 2002-2020 (NSTP 2020). It is a long-term indicative plan that sets the direction of S&T development in the country until 2020. It is the S&T community’s response to the national leadership’s call for S&T to be the foundation of future economic development in the country.

It is supportive of the visions and goals stated in the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) which are: macroeconomic stability with equitable growth based on free enterprise, agriculture and fisheries modernization with social equity, comprehensive human development, and good governance. — PSciJourn News Service

TCFI commends PGMA’s support to PAGASA

The Typhoon Committee Foundation, Inc. (TCFI) commends President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for giving two units of Doppler Weather Radar to PAGASA  worth P110M.

The radar units, capable of providing weather observations and precise weather reports,  will be installed in Tagaytay and Subic and will cover the areas including Metro Manila and neighboring provinces.

PAGASA said that the Doppler  radar is used to support short-term casting and as a source of information for alert and preventive action in case of approaching severe weather and imminent flooding,  as it is capable of determining rain volume.  It can help agricultural institutions in short-term planning of sowing, irrigation and harvesting, and flood warning.

Presently PAGASA uses conventional surveillance weather radars, which were rehabilitated in 2005.   These radar units are capable only of tracking typhoon movement.  The operational weather radars are located in Baler, Aurora, Aparri, Cagayan,  Virac, Catanduanes,  Baguio City and Guian, Eastern Samar.

The TCFI is a non-stock and non-profit foundation established in 1989.  It aims to promote humanitarian activities and scientific research in the field of disaster mitigation and control, disaster information dissemination, and public education and information campaign on typhoon awareness and mitigation.

With the support of President Arroyo PAGASA’s goal is to install 10 Doppler weather radar in different parts of the country by 2010. — PSciJourn News Service

IFAD supports biofuels research-for-development project led by ICRISAT

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) of the United Nations has committed $1.5 million funding for a three-year biofuels research-for-development project led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

IFAD is the first among the development investors supporting international agricultural research institutes under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that has committed support for a biofuels project. The project will facilitate farmers and entrepreneurs to utilize sweet sorghum stalks and cassava roots in producing ethanol, and seeds of jatropha in producing bio-diesel.

The Inter-Center project, involving ICRISAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the appropriate national agricultural research centers, will involve popularization of the cultivation of sweet sorghum in India, the Philippines, China and Mali; cassava in Vietnam and Colombia; and jatropha in India and Mali. Research results on producing ethanol from the juice of stalks of sweet sorghum and roots of cassava, and bio-diesel from the seeds of jatropha are quite encouraging.

According to Dr. William Dar, director general of ICRISAT, the project will support the farmers of the drylands with the latest research and research products and link them with the biofuel market. Thus, they will be able to improve their incomes and livelihoods from the biofuel revolution.

Dar thanked IFAD for committing support to this unique project that linked multiple crops and institutions across multiple continents.

The project facilitates entrepreneurs to utilize sweet sorghum stalks and cassava roots in producing ethanol, and seeds of jatropha in producing bio-diesel. The above program will be implemented by sensitizing farmers, research partners and other stakeholders in the production and supply chain about biofuel production.

This will enable them to work together and make use of the project’s research outputs, such as, improved target crop cultivars, production packages, seed systems, processing technologies (including management of effluents and exploitation of by-products), and learn about innovative input and market linkages developed for different agro-eco-regions in the target countries.

In addition, the project draws upon the strength of small-scale farmers’ know-how in formulating and implementing various activities.

The overall purpose of the project is thus to facilitate small-scale farmers and landless poor to take advantage of the market demand for their crops for bio-fuel production and/or utilize the bio-fuels for local use (e.g. running motor pump), which in turn, will help them improve their livelihoods and rehabilitate the degraded lands (wherever jatropha and local species of bio-diesel plantations are taken up).

The project also envisages facilitating the development of farmer-friendly procedures to enable them to take advantage of the clean-development mechanism (CDM), of the Kyoto protocol, to improve their livelihoods. The project contributes to energy self-sufficiency of the target countries.

Biofuels are gaining importance as fossil fuel prices are skyrocketing and also the growing concerns globally over environmental pollution associated with fossil fuels. Considering these issues, several developed and developing countries are formulating policies for mandatory blending of ethanol and bio-diesel (produced from renewable sources) with fossil fuels (petrol and diesel) resulting in a huge demand for raw materials for producing bio-fuels.

In the semi-arid and seasonally dry tropics/sub tropics of India, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Mali and Colombia millions of poor farmers cultivate sorghum and cassava as staple food and fodder crops. Jatropha is grown as hedge/avenue and forest shrub/tree to extract oil from the seeds for use in lighting and for other uses such as leather tanning. — ICRISAT/PSciJourn News Service

PNP Crime Lab: The science of solving crimes

Many become glued to their television sets when they watch the popular “CSI,” an American TV series which shows details of how forensic scientists unveil the mysteries behind unusual deaths and crimes.

In the Philippines, science journalists recently visited the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory in Camp Crame and took a look at how the local “CSI” experts are solving crimes.

But wait. One might ask: “What are science journalists doing in a crime laboratory?” “Isn’t a police crime lab only a territory for police reporters?” another might add.

Solving crimes or forensics is a science which uses scientific tests or techniques in the investigation of crimes.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines forensics as “the use of science and technology to investigate and establish facts in criminal or civil courts of law.”

Wikipedia says, “Forensic science [often shortened to forensics] is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or to a civil action.”

“Forensicm” Wikipedia says, comes from the Latin word “forensis” meaning forum. During the time of the Romans, a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their side of the story. The individual with the best argumentation and delivery would determine the outcome of the case. In other words, the person with the best forensic skills would win.

It should be noted that almost all aspects of our lives nowadays are developed by advances in science—from food development through biotechnology, to medical products and equipment, to beauty products, to environment and to solving crimes.

In this case, all journalists—including police reporters, and not only science journalists—become involved in reporting stories that concern the application of science and technology.

To stress this point, the PNP Crime Lab manpower is composed of medical doctors, chemists, biologists, pharmacists, among others, with particular line of expertise, and underwent trainings in the country and abroad.

As one of the crime lab experts said: “If the law has made you a witness, remain a man of science,” because it is only through science where truth and justice prevails in a crime.

Ranking officers who head the different divisions of the PNP Crime Lab took turns in briefing the visiting science journalists from the Philippine Science Journalists Association Inc. (PSciJourn) on the operations of this vital branch of the national police.

The Fingerprint Lab, which is the oldest division dating back in 1945 under the former Philippine Constabulary Criminal Investigation Service (PC-CIS), is one of the busiest divisions in the crime lab.

Besides fingerprinting suspected criminals, the division also gives lectures and provides the military and police schools with fingerprint experts.

Supt. Arturo Cacdac Jr. said the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (Afis) matches the fingerprints of suspects with evidences collected. It is currently collating the fingerprint data of people involved in criminal cases.

Cacdac pointed out that “while the crime lab is not on a par with the US investigative agencies because they have modern and high-tech equipment, we are very much capable in the technical aspect.”

He revealed a five-year program to set up provincial crime lab units together with 26 drug testing centers. The PNP inaugurated this year the new crime labs in Rizal and Laguna. Six more are planned this year, 10 next year, nine in 2009, six in 2010 and six more in 2011.

Cacdac also mentioned a proposed construction of a forensics building in Camp Crame. He even joked that the Fingerprint Division people are crossing their fingers that the forensics building would come soon enough.

The Chemistry Division, headed by PCI Grace Eustaquio, determines if the suspect or victim has alcohol, poison or any toxic material in the body. It also analyzes the chemical content of exploded bombs.

The Polygraph Division, manned by psychology and criminology graduates, is headed by Major Nelisa Geronimo. She has been in her job for years, making her a lie-detector expert. She said many of the cases referred to her are suspected “inside-job cases.”

The PNP-NCR’s two analog and one digital machines are able to take the tests within about 30 minutes and release the results within 24 hours at 98 percent to 99 accuracy.

Geronimo said: “A woman less than four months pregnant can go through a polygraph test [because the baby is still less developed and his system will not hamper the test].”

She explained: “If the woman is five to nine months pregnant the lie-detector machine would have difficulty determining who it is monitoring since the baby inside her has functioning organs already.”

A person suffering from hypertension are also advised against going through a lie-detector test because it would be difficult to read the person’s blood pressure.

The DNA Division’s top man is PCI Francisco Supe, a doctor of medicine who has undergone extensive trainings in the field.

The Medico-Legal Division is in charge of identification of corpses through the use of DNA, autopsy and dental identification, among others.

Tampered serial numbers, bullets, shoe and footprints, cartridges or test firing of arms of different caliber are examined by the Physical Evidence Identification Division.

The Questioned Documents Division examines handwritings and signatures, tampered documents and fake bills, among others.

A team of experts in medico-legal, fingerprint and DNA, among others, from the crime lab have successfully identified victims of natural disasters, where corpses are too many and in advanced state of decomposition.

The men and women in this team are trained in Australia through a bilateral cooperation program. Thousands of victims from super typhoon Reming in Albay last year benefited from the work of these experts. Same with those in the Guinsaugon flash floods in Southern Leyte last year. — PSciJourn News Service


Fire chief slams proliferation of substandard Christmas lights

General Enrique Linsangan, Chief of the Bureau of Fire Prevention, has noted the increased in numbers of people selling, buying and using substandard Christmas lights during this holiday season.

He urgently reminds users to be cautious or better yet, to discard these kind of decorating materials because they are wrapped in combustible cheap plastics and mass-produced in order to reach the market in time for the holidays.

Linsangan says many of the causes of fire during the Christmas season are the defective and careless use of these decorative lights.

He calls upon the people to use the safe and good quality products which may be higher in price — but are tested and proven safe.

The warning comes after reports of fire that hit houses in Metro Manila the past days which claimed lives and destroyed properties simply because they used cheap substandard decorative lights.

In a news conference held by the PSciJourn News Service at the Bacolod Inasal Restaurant at the Quezon City Circle, General Linsangan also says, the bureau has been doing good jobs despite they lack fire trucks and modern equipment.

He mentions the low appropriation given to the PFP that is why they resort to everything even buying substandard fire truck with only six months warranty.

These trucks become useless after warranty period and become mere displays in stations like what some people call…white elephants.

Linsangan also noted that out of the meager budget, 85-percent is used for salaries of personnel while 15 percent goes to operating expenses.

The meager outlay also causes the undermanned situation in the Bureau of Fire Prevention all over the country.

He adds, that another problem is the outmoded 1948 Fire Code of the Philippines, that is why a new improved Fire Code is needed so much to respond and serve well the communities in remote and urban areas.

Linsangan says he has submitted a proposed code in the office of Senator Allan Peter Cayetano and hopes a positive turnout from the Senate.

PSciJourn, ICRISAT sign MOU; PSciJourn officers take oath

The Philippine Science Journalists Association Inc. (PSciJourn) and the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) on January 4, 2008, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in order to forge partnership, cooperation and coordination on matters relating to innovative agricultural research and capacity building for sustainable development.

Angelo Palmones, PSciJourn president, and Dr. William Dar, ICRISAT director general, signed the MOU.


Meanwhile, the new set of officers and members of the board directors of PSciJourn were inducted into office by Dr. Dar also on January 4 at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City.

Sworn into office were: Angelo Palmones, president (DZMM-ABS-CBN), Aristotle Carandang, vice president (National Academy of Science and Technology, and Malaya newspaper); Lyn Resurreccion, secretary (BusinessMirror); Susan Layos, treasurer (DZME); Madel Sabater, auditor (Manila Bulletin); Melly Tenorio, PRO (DZRB); Ruby Cristobal, director (Science Education Institute) and Victoria Bartilet, executive director (Science and Technology Information Institute).


PSciJourn was organized in 2001 with Mr. Palmones as founding president.

PSciJourn is a nonstock and nonprofit association of science journalists, science and technology (S&T) communicators and advocates committed to create a science consciousness and culture among Filipinos. It supports public and private efforts in developing a science-oriented citizenry by promoting public awareness, understanding and appreciation of S&T.

PSciJourn creates a pool of science journalists, and works out training and scholarships programs for S&T journalists.

On the other hand, ICRISAT is a nonprofit and nonpolitical organization that does innovative agricultural research and capacity building for sustainable development with partners across the globe to serve the poorest of the poor in the semi-arid areas of the developing world.

ICRISAT adopts integrated genetic and natural-resource management as its overarching research strategy to attain scientific excellence and relevance in agriculture in the semi-arid tropics, focusing on key livelihood and income opportunities to improve the well-being of the poor with equity, multidisciplinarity, sustainability and community participation as core principles.

With the MOU, ICRISAT and PSciJourn agree to undertake joint activities aimed at increasing the level of the people’s awareness in innovative agricultural research and capacity building for sustainable development to attain scientific excellence and relevance in agriculture in the semi-arid tropics, and in the Philippines.

Both organizations will promote a higher level of S&T consciousness and understanding among media practitioners in the country. Specifically, they shall conduct and/or coordinate activities, including media releases, and event coverage of seminars, trainings, conferences, workshops and roundtable discussions.

They will craft a work plan containing proposals and details of projects and activities to implement the MOU. — PSciJourn News Service