Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 - Year of Environmental Revolution

Garbage City

"Man, being the superior organism, has not only won over his rivals - all organisms that constitute the biosphere. He has also assaulted Nature."

- AV Rotor, Treaty of Nature and Man (Light from the Old Arch)

Frantic exploitation of natural resources through illegal logging operations, followed by slash-and-burn agriculture (kaingin), has brought havoc to the Philippines in the past century. The detrimental results are measured not only by the denudation of once productive forests and hillsides, but also destruction through erosion, flood, drought and even death.

An example of this kind of ruination brought about by abuse of nature is the tragedy in Ormoc City where floodwaters cascading down the denuded watershed, killed hundreds of residents and countless animals. It took ten years for the city to fully recover. Ironically, before the tragedy, Ormoc, from the air, looked like a little village similar to Shangrila, a perfect place for retirement.

Decline in Carrying Capacity

A land area designed by nature to sustain millions of people and countless other organisms, was touched by man and we are now paying the price for it. Man removed the vegetation, cut down trees for his shelter and crafts, and planted cereals and short-growing crops to get immediate returns. He hunted for food and fun, and in many ways, changed the natural contour and topography of the land.

Following years of plenty, however, nature reasserted itself. Water would run unchecked, carrying plant nutrients downhill. On its path are formed rills and gullies that slice through slopes, peeling off the topsoil and making the land unprofitable for agriculture. Since the plants cannot grow, animals gradually perish. Finally, the kaingero abandons the area, leaving it to the mercy of natural elements. It is possible that nature may rebuild itself, but will take years for affected areas to regain their productivity, and for the resident organisms once again attain their self-sustaining population levels.

There are 13.5 million square miles of desert area on earth, representing a third of the total land surface. This large proportion of land may be man-made as history and archeological findings reveal.

Lost Civilizations

Fifteen civilizations, once flourished in Western Sahara, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the Sinai desert, Mesopotamia, and the deserts of Persia. All of these cultures perished when the people of the area through exploitation, forced nature to react. As a consequence, man was robbed of his only means of sustenance.

History tells us of man’s early abuse of nature in the Fertile Crescent where agriculture began some 3000 years ago. Man-made parallel canals joined the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to irrigate the thirsty fertile valley. In the process, the balance of Nature was overturned when the natural drainage flow was disturbed. Because the treaty was violated, nature revenged. The canal civilization perished in the swamps that later formed. The sluggish water brought malaria and other diseases causing untold number of deaths and migration to the hinterlands. Among its victims was Alexander the Great.

Carthage had another story. Three wars hit Carthage, known as the Punic Wars. On the third one, the Romans plowed through the city, ending reign of this erstwhile mercantile power, and removing the threat to the Roman economy. After the conquest, the Romans pumped salt-water inland and flooded the fertile farms. Today, Carthage exists only in history and in imagination of whoever stands atop a hill overlooking what is now a vast desert.

Omar Khayyam, if alive today, cannot possibly compose verses as beautiful as the Rubaiyat as written in his own time. His birthplace, Nishapur, which up to the time of Genghis Khan, supported a population of 1.5 million people, can only sustain 15,000 people today. Archeologists have just unearthed the Forest of Guir where Hannibal marched with war elephants. The great unconquerable jungle of India grew from waterlogged lowland formed by unwise irrigation management.

It is hard to believe, but true that in the middle of the Sahara desert, 50 million acres of fossil soil are sleeping under layers of sand awaiting water. Surveyors found an underground stream called the Albienne Nappe that runs close to this deposit. Just as plans were laid to “revive” the dead soil by irrigation, the French tested their first atomic bomb. Due to contamination, it is no longer safe to continue on with the project.

The great Pyramids of Egypt could not have been constructed in the middle of an endless desert. The tributaries of the Nile once surrounded these centers of civilization. Jerusalem appears today as a small city on a barren land. It may have been a city with thick vegetation. This was true of Negev and Baghdad.

Need of a Conservation Program

For the Philippines, it is high time we lay out a long-range conservation program to insure the future of the country. This plan should protect the fertility of the fields, wealth of the forests and marine resources, in order to bring prosperity to the people. As of now, the country is being ripped apart by erosion and floods due to unscrupulous exploitation by loggers and kaingeros.

It is only through proper management and effective conservation, such as reforestation, pollution control, erosion control, limited logging, and proper land use, that we can insure the continuity of our race. All we have to do is to keep ourselves faithful to the treaty between nature and man.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Part 1: Bioethics and Environment - Two Basic Lessons in Life

Bioethics and Environment - Two Basic Lessons in Life
Dt Abe V Rotor
This world, which appears to be a great workshop in which knowledge is developed by man – which appears as progress and civilization, as a modern system of communication, as a structure of democratic freedom without any limitations – this world is not capable of making man happy.

- Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Pristine water of Abra River passing through Banaoang Pass, Santa, Ilocos Sur

I thank the International Congress on Bioethics for inviting me through Fr. Tamerlane Lana, to make a commentary on Bioethics and the Environment. Distinguished lecturers, fellow reactors, participants, guests, friends, good morning.

Our resource person, Dr. Michael Cheng-tek Tai, said, “… not only human life is influenced by biological factors but also by social, psychological and even environmental factors.” He asked, “Is our environment in a good condition to fortify a good life for mankind?”

First allow me to me to relate a story before I proceed with my reaction.

But there are no neighbors!

Once there was a workshop for adult leaders somewhere in Asia. The teacher asked the participants to draw on the blackboard a beautiful house, a dream house ideal to live in and raise a family. It was of course, an exercise, which in the minds of the participants was as easy as copying a model from experience and memory. Besides it is a universal dream to own such a house, which allows free interplay of both reason and imagination, using the left and the right brain. The participants formed a queue to allow everyone to contribute his own idea on the blackboard.

The first in the queue drew the posts of the house, on which the succeeding members made the roof and floor. The rest proceeded in making the walls and windows. On the second round the participants added garage, porch, veranda, gate, staircase, fence, swimming pool, TV antennae, and other amenities. Finally their dream house was completed and they returned to their seats. A lively “sharing session” followed and everyone was happy with the outcome of the exercise, including the teacher. Just then a little child happened to be passing by and saw the drawing of the house on the blackboard. He stopped and entered the classroom. He stood there for a long time looking at the drawing and the teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no neighbors!”

Human relations is very important. Sociology has become a major field in education. There is a field of biology known as Human Ecology. Economics is rooted into the theory of equitable wealth distribution, where everyone gets a fair share of the pie. Most religions, including ancient religions, are anthropocentric. The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Matthew 25, Sermon on the Mount, the meaning of Messiah – all these and many more speak of man to be good to his fellowmen. Salvation is not aimed at oneself, but should be one that is collective, which means, “No one goes to heaven alone.” Very little mention is made on the role of the environment, or nature for that matter, in leading man to heaven.

But there are no trees, rivers...

In a another village near the first one I told you, there was a similar workshop. This time the participants were asked to draw a community. So they made a queue for the blackboard and after working together, came up with a beautiful drawing of a community. There are houses - many houses; a church, a school, village hall, plaza. Roads and bridges make a network in the village showing many people. The market is very busy. Anything that makes a typical village is there. The participants discussed, “What constitute a community?” and everyone was so eager and delighted at the result. Just then a little child was passing by, and when he saw the drawing on the backboard, stopped and entered the classroom. The teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no trees, no birds; there are no mountains, no fields, no river!”

As no man is an island, so is a village without a natural environment. What good is man living on top of a hill while being surrounded by people in abject poverty? What good is progress – megacities, science and technology, internet, - when progress itself is responsible for the destruction of the land, the seas, and the atmosphere, in short, the Planet Earth.

Many days had passed since the two workshops. Virtually no one ever thought of looking for the little child - who he was or where he lived. Then the whole village suddenly realized, and so they began to search for him, but they never found him – not in the village, not in the neighboring village, not in the town, not in any known place.

Who was the little child? Everyone who saw him never forgot his kindly beautiful and innocent face, and they pondered on his words which remained a puzzle to them for a long, long time.

Environmental Philosophy

What is wrong with our relationship with nature? There are those who believe that nature shall serve humanity. On the other hand there are those who believe that humanity shall serve nature. And there are those who say, it is “something in between”.

We speak about environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, eco-philosophy, and so on, but what do we put into these concepts, and how? Understanding these terms may not solve environmental problems, but on the other hand it is questionable whether we can solve these problems without discussing them on a philosophical level.

There are different views about change. Scientific knowledge and government policies for example, often disagree and run into conflict at each other. Economics and ecology, though they share a common root word and foundation, are strange bedfellows, so to speak. Yet they support common goals geared toward change. But change has to be viewed more than the measures of GNP, currency, balance of trade, and the like, and should not only be confined to Human Development Indices, such as literacy rate, mortality and population. While these are parameters of growth and development, certain questions on sustainability and environmental preservation are left unanswered. How do we ensure future generations? We ask ourselves what is “progress without conscience?” And whose development? What is the relationship between progress and posterity?

Which leads us to Dr. Tai’s paper, Who is man on earth? Is he Master? He proceeded in saying that man is a steward – one who must treat nature with overwhelming respect. Man has responsibility to God, to nature, to his fellowmen, other creatures and the Earth.

It is on this concept that we measure the obedience of man. It is also on this concept that man’s greatest achievement is made, his martyrdom, his heroism. The hero concept revolutionizes traditional and conventional definition of a hero. He is more than a nationalist, an economist, or an ideologist, as we generally know, but a hero for Mother Earth. The late Dr. Dioscorro Umali, national scientist, addressed a graduating class at the University of the Philippines with this statement, “Be the heroes we never were.” The essence of his speech is that his generation left so little of the earth’s resources for the next generations to inherit and enjoy. “We have not only abused the bounties of Nature,” he said, “We have destroyed her as well.” Which leads us to the topic, environmental movement.

Today, rather than defending himself against nature, man realized, he needed to defend nature against himself.

- AV Rotor, Light from the Old Arch

Environmental Movement

Environmental movement has roots in ancient cultures as gleamed from such old structures as the Banawe Rice Terraces. Throughout history as civilizations grew and spread the environment became a sacrificial lamb. Such phrases “all roads lead to Rome,” “the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome,” “the sun never sets on English soil,” and the eight wonders of the ancient world may reflect man’s ultimate achievements, yet all these were ephemeral in the mist of time in man’s dreams. In the end, it is nature that takes them away from the hands of man. The loss of natural environments has led to the decline of civilizations and their subsequent demise.

Revival of environmental awareness came at the heels of the Renaissance. In the 12th century St. Francis of Assisi brought a new concept of devotion. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the creatures on Earth our friends, laid down the foundation of naturalism in the Christian church reviving much of the Aristotelian naturalism, and those in ancient cultures.

It is but fitting that St. Francis of Assisi is regarded as the patron saint of ecology. Time Magazine came up with a list of heroes for Planet Earth, among them are naturalist philosophers or conservationist philosophers are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. Here is a glimpse at their contributions

• Emerson claimed that “behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present.”

• Thoreau spoke of the side of “truth in nature and wilderness over the deceits of civilization.”

• Muir believed that “wilderness mirrors divinity, nourishes humanity, and vivifies the spirit.”

• Leopold was behind the policies in wilderness and game management. “Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.”

• Carson published Silent Spring, which dramatized the potential dangers of pesticides to food, wildlife, and humans causing wide spread damage to the ecosystem.

• Chico Mendes was a front liner in environmental conservation. He lost his life defending the concept of “extractive reserves” to conserve the Brazilian Rainforest that provided livelihood of the people against the conversion of the forest into ranches and plantations.

Other heroes of planet Earth cited include Barbara Ward, author of Only One Earth which shaped the UN environmental conference; Ernest Schumacher who did not believe in endless growth, mega-companies and endless consumption, an advocated for Small is Beautiful, a best seller; Jacques-Yves Cousteau, oceanographer who espoused the need to arrest the declining health of the oceans. There many more whom we can compare with the Unknown Soldier, but a soldier in defense of nature.


Part 3: Bioethics and Environment - Quest for Quality of Life

Part 3: Bioethics and Environment - Quest for Quality of Life
Dr Abe V Rotor
A corner of Eden mural in acrylic, AVR

1. Man has emboldened the causative agents of human diseases – both old and new - into epidemic and pandemic proportions, which include HIV-AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and today’s threats of pandemic diseases, the Avian flu (caused by a new virus H5N1, a hybrid of the human flu virus and the bird fly virus) and obesity (caused by Ad36 virus)

2. Through biological specialization or mutation – natural and man-induced – causative agents have crossed natural barriers of transmission across species, such as bird to man (bird flu), civet cat to man (SARS), and primate to man (HIV-AIDS, and Ebola). Man has built bridges between the non-living to the living as well. We have paved the way for the Prion, an infectious protein, the causative agent of mad cow disease or BSE (Bovine Spongiosform Encephalopathy ) to cross from cattle to man and cause a similar disease affecting humans, the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Viruses have acquired new ability to infect and spread not only among humans but also in animals and plants. Viral diseases of plants have been responsible for the decrease in agricultural production in many parts of the world.

3. In the midst of enjoying the good life in a postmodern world more and more people are victims of accidents, heart attacks and strokes, anxiety and depression – and various forms of psychosomatic disorder - that often lead to ruined lives and suicides. Cancer, diabetes, and the deleterious consequences of vices (tobacco and alcohol), are on the rise among other modern diseases. Surprisingly, the number of years a person is healthy in proportion to his life span is not significantly longer than that of his predecessors, and that a person’s life span has not significantly increased at all. It is the average longevity of a population that has increased, not the individual’s. The fact is that modern medicine has increased survival of infants and young people, most of them are now in their past fifties, thus gross longevity appears to have increased, up to 78 years in some countries. On the contrary, more and more young people are getting sick and dying.

4. Modern society and science and technology no longer fit into the Darwinian theory of natural selection. There is a growing burden placed on the shoulders of the able and fit in our society who, without choice, is responsible in taking care of the growing number of dependents – many are the infirm and the aged.

There are few frontiers of production left today. We have virtually pushed back the sea and leveled off the mountain. Prime lands have all been taken, swamps have been drained, and even deserts are being reclaimed. But as we continue to explore the marginal edges of these frontiers the more we are confronted with high cost of production that is levied on the consumer, and more importantly, the danger of destroying the fragile environment. AVR
All these lead us to re-examine our values. It challenges us to look deeper into a paradigm of salvation through our concern for the environment. The prolificacy of the human species sans war and pestilence, plus growing affluence of our society has led to a population explosion which had doubled in less than fifty years. We are now over six billion. Under this paradigm, there is no master and subject. All must join hands to prevent the exploitation of the earth’s finite resources. Today’s economists must also be good housekeepers of Nature, so with those in the other professions. While man’s aim is directed at the Good Life, he has unwittingly reduced the very foundation of that good life – the productivity and beauty of Mother Earth.

Ecological paradigm endorses an ecocentric approach where all forms of life and non-life are important to human life. Spirituality points out to a unitive force: the sacredness of everything. God’s divinity flows in everything. There is integration in the universe. And we are part of that integration, exceedingly small as we are, notwithstanding. Under ecological paradigm of salvation, the one responsible in the destruction of the environment leading to loss of lives and properties should be held accountable for it to God, nature and fellowmen.

The environment and the economy need not be viewed as opposites. It is possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time. More and more businesses have begun adopting this concept as a business philosophy. People behind business organizations are becoming more aware of the ethical decisions they face, and their responsibility for their consequences.

Industrialization and urbanization are akin to each other. Industrial growth spurred the building of cities all over the world. Today there are as many people living in cities as those living the rural places. A mega-city like Tokyo has a population of 15 million people. We are 10 million in Metro Manila. Cities are fragile environments. Cities are more prone to epidemics such as the bubonic plague that killed one-third of the population of Europe in the 13th century. Now we are confronted with HIV-AID, SARs, Meningo cochcimia – and the dreaded Avian flu which hovers as the next human pandemic disease. AVR

There are organizations that have set some rules of governance of the environment, among them, GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CERES (Coalition of Environmental Responsible Economies), and UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program). In line with these a multi- national corporation came up with the following thrusts:
• Restore and preserve the environment
• Reduce waste and pollution
• Education of the public on environmental conservation
• Work with government for sound and responsible environmental program
• Assess impact of business on the environment and communities.
This approach is gaining respect and more and more businesses are looking at this model with favor.

The Question of Governance

Dr. Tai cited three themes in order that man can live in harmony with nature. Man is part of the ecosystem, Man is steward of the earth, and Man is finite. Dr. Tai cited models with which man can change his views about the environment and change his style of living. We have also models in the business world, in the church, and in the government, in fact all sectors of society. There are models everywhere in this or that part of the world, whether developed or underdeveloped. There are as many models in less developed countries as in highly industrialized countries. It could be that the less developed are closer to tradition, and still have strong ethnic roots, like the old civilizations mentioned in the paper – the native cultures of America and Africa.

But the world has never been one. It has become more diverse in views and interests though in many respects share the same aspirations towards progress and development. And this is the problem. Man is always in a race. In that race awaits at the end not a prize mankind is proud of and honorable. It is tragedy, which Garett Hardin calls, the tragedy of the commons. It is a greedy competition for a finite resource, each his own, until it is gone. The forests are disappearing today, the lake are dying, the fields are getting marginal, the pastures are overgrazed, the air is loaded with destructive gases, the sea is over fished. All these point out to the syndrome - tragedy of the commons. And because time is of the essence, many believe that the world needs a new revolution now? Is revolution the only way to solve global problems of the environment today?

Definitely, while we need to reform to save our environment, any means that is contrary to peace and unity, is definitely unacceptable. And we would not adhere to the rule of force or violence just to be able to succeed. It is said, that revolution starts in a small corner. It starts in this congress.

Ethics is the foundation of aesthetics; it is something very difficult to explain that makes beautiful more beautiful, rising to the highest level of philosophy where man find hope, inspiration, and peace. It is a beacon. While ethics sets the direction, aesthetics is its beautiful goal.

In closing I would like to thank Dr. Tai, for his scholarly and incisive paper from which I was not only able to prepare myself as a member of the panel of reactors, but found an opportunity to review and expand my current research works in ecology as well. Lastly, I would like to recite this short prayer I made for this International Congress on Bioethics, and dedicate it through the little child who visited the two workshops in the village and exclaimed. “But there are no neighbors! But there are no trees, birds, fields and mountains!”

Ecology Prayer

When my days are over,
Let me lie down to sleep
on sweet breeze and earth,
in the shade of trees
I planted in my youth;
since I had not done enough,
make, make my kind live
to carry on the torch,
while my dusts fall
to where new life begins –
even only an atom I shall be,
let me be with you,
dear Mother Earth.

There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings…Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change …Mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, the cattle and chicken sickened and died …There was a strange stillness… The Few birds seen anywhere were moribund, they trembled violently and could not fly. It is a spring without voices.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Part 2: Food - something different to break monotony

Abe V Rotor

Farm fresh egg , upland rice, and homemade tocino,
with kapeng barako. (Breakfast at Amadeo, Cavite)

Bagnet or lechon kawali (Vigan, Ilocos Sur),
best in cooking pinakbet.
Or simply heat until
crispy, cut into pieces and serve with tomato,
onion and ginger, with a dash of salt.

Paksiw na Ayungin, a freshwater fish with yellow
fat, often laden with eggs (Lingayen, Pangasinan).

Champorado with dried dilis and bulong unas
fish, easy to prepare for breakfast - for a change.

Home, Sweet Home with Nature , AVR

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


FishermanAbe V Rotor
Kaohsiung, Taiwan 1992

I wish I were this fisherman by the seawith the world at my back, that I'll be free;or that I'm seen this way through a keyhole,from a restless throng, yet part of its whole;
the sea roars and the wind hisses through a rock -
and I, by the sea with the world at my back,
deserve not at all, more so when I am gone
to wear the shoes of the great Fisherman.~

Living with Nature 3, AVR

Monday, December 20, 2010

Part 1: Genetic Engineering - another Frankenstein monster in the making, this time real

Abe V Rotor

Animation today, monsters tomorrow. Genetic engineering is building another Frankenstein monster - this time it is real.

A Genetically Modified Organism (or GMO) is a result of rapid genetic pooling or buildup of desirable traits by means of genetic engineering, rather than through the conventional method.

The conventional agricultural breeding methods are tedious, and subject to uncertainty. Today’s biotechnology opened a frontier whereby the genes of organisms can be transferred and combined according to the traits one wishes to combine. It is actually opening a floodgate of possibilities, spectacularly including cross-species or cross-phyla transfer of genes. This could mean a firefly gene implanted in a rat can make the rodent glow in the dark.

All these have their early beginning with the DNA model proposed by Crick and Watson in the fifties who later shared the Nobel Prize in biology. So precise is the model that with modern tools, all one does is to cut and insert a bit of the genetic material carrying a desired trait. Thus the Bacillus thuringiensis gene into corn produced the Bt corn. Protein gene of one legume to increase the protein nutrients of another. Beta-carotene gene in daffodils into rice resulted into golden rice. (See Figure I )

But what is the extent of modification? What kind and which direction? Would an organism reach a level of modification that it does not only lose its genetic identity but become alien to its adopted environment?

We ask these questions in the light of the following premises:

1. A trait may be controlled by a single gene, but there are more traits that are controlled by multiple and blending genes. Besides, the collective expression of various gene combinations, not to mention the effects of disturbance of the loci of traits in the genes, will take time to be well understood if they inflict any harm or not to human and the environment.

2. Every trait of an organism in one way or the other affects the environment, and vice versa. This means that if the protein is elevated, the higher will be its uptake of nitrogen so that there is need of fertilizer subsidy. Increase in milk output necessary means more feeds, and more antibiotics to protect the animal from milk production stress. There is a saying in ecology that there is no such thing as “free lunch”,

3. Ecologically how will a GMO relate to the natural members of the environment? How will it fit into the ecosystem in which its “parents” were once a part, integrally built by seres and evolution? We may just be interested on how the organism serves our purpose, but not so much as on its usefulness in its own community and the ecosystem as a whole.

4. Genetic engineering will definitely increase the number of plants and animals that now depend entirely on man’s care and attention - and making those presently under cultivation and domestication more and more dependent. Many breeds and varieties can no longer live and prosper in the open. This is indeed an antithesis of natural farming.


Part 2: Genetic Engineering - Tinkering with the Book of Life

Abe V Rotor

Conventional agriculture can improve crops to this extent - giant balimbing (Averrhoa carambola) - basically by means of selection and hybridization. Should we resort to genetic engineering to produce more and bigger crops? Should we tinker with the genes, transferring them from one species to another, and creating new "life forms" in effect?

After we have perfected the model of the DNA which is the code of heredity, we have succeeded in cracking the code itself, which is the code of life.

This feat was preceded by the cracking the atom which brought out the first genie, the atomic bomb.

What would this second genie look like?

Let us create scenarios based on scientific papers in the light of many inquiries.

1. Does GMO cause cancer and other diseases? Evidences do not point out directly that it does. But cancer is too complex for us to have full understanding. Something – and that something that triggers the disease - may not be determined immediately, not until we can accurately read it in the human genome map. It is as puzzling as such questions like, Where did prion (infective principle of mad cow disease) come from? How does it cause Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (BSE), and the human Crueztfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) with which the mad cow disease is associated? Other than cancer why are there more and more young people contacting diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? We do not know. We can not blame these to GMO either. It is too early to say.

2. GMO and the Terminator. Here the genie is a multinational that placed in its hands the fate of the farmer. This is worst than the hybrid corn seeds which farmers must renew their seed stock every time they plant their fields. The Terminator is a GM corn that carries genes that automatically kill the embryo after the crop is harvested so that farmers have to buy new seeds from the company. The creator, Monsanto, got the ire of many people. It projected a bad image of biotechnology.

3. Processed Food from GMO. Seemingly you do not see this kind of genie. We do not know but we are eating GMF how much we are trying to avoid it. There was no referendum conducted or public consultation before GMF was put to market. Today GM soybean is processed into cooking oil, soy sauce, TVP, taho, tokwa, etc. GM potato finds its way through fast food chains. GM cows in steaks, burgers, corned beef and milk. Whose accountability can we seek refuge?

4. GMO touches the fiber of culture, beliefs and religion. People are generally sensitive to many things, cultural, religious, personal. Protest may be felt even in their silence. It could be that their silence is in the lack of food and absence of other alternatives. Beggars are no chooser, so goes a saying.

5. The Capitalist Syndrome. Who’s afraid of the big, big wolf? Ask not George Orwell. Remember his book, “1984”? He has another definition of big brother. I also refer to the book of Susan George, “How the Other Half Dies”. The world is without sufficient food, it is because the other half has simply too much. Well, capitalism is not perfect; it has also excesses as well as weaknesses. But what guarantee then has GMO not to fall into the control of the capitalist? Monsanto gave the early signals. Who control (owns) the gene banks of CIMMYT and IRRI?

Perhaps we have to look also at the humanitarian angle of capitalism in the absence of a better alternative.

a. GMO, medicine and health. Remember that a genie can be obliging, too. Genetic engineering is as young as dawn. As light breaks we take a glimpse before the sun is up.

b. Genetic engineering is perhaps the key to the pest and disease control, such as malaria and dengue. Entomologists have isolated parasite-suppressing genes in mosquitoes.

c. GE in medicine as stated in Dr. Saturnina Halos’s paper, such as insulin production, has expanded into the production of more potent antibiotics, hormones, etc. The incorporation of vitamins in food could reduce infant mortality, blindness, and other associated defects.


It is inevitable that a time will come – and soon - when genetic engineering will be applied in human cloning. Today, we have so far applied human biotechnology mostly to helping childless couples bear children. But with results in animal cloning, a technique is being developed to clone the human being without encountering the problems encountered in Dolly the sheep – premature aging. This could be the biggest monster science will ever make. But it could be another Tower of Babel in the making. ~

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Talisay at Sunset in Amihan

Abe V Rotor

Talisay (Terminalia catappa) UST campus, Manila

Don't shed off your golden crown in the night
and lose your beauty alone in the dark;
let the sun bring back my sense of awe through sight
with the cold wind bringing the happy lark,
to break the silence before the new light;
cast, cast in the blue sky your final arch
that makes a
carpet in the waning light.

Living with Nature 3, AVR

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ho Chi Minh University of Technology, Vietnam: fastest growing university in the region

Ho Chi Minh University of Technology,  Vietnam: fastest growing university in the region
Dr Abe V Rotor
Visiting Professor

The mythical bird Phoenix deserves a place in history. It is not confined only in the imagination shaped by the gods and goddesses of Mt Olympus. Go to Vietnam. Here mythology lost much of its myth. Myth after all is reality when people are able to rise from the ashes of war, specially by themselves alone.

I have visited their museum - the War Museum - and saw the atrocities committed during the two-decade US-led war against the Vietnamese enshrined in history and memory.

I have entered the Cuchi Tunnel, the underground network dug by bare hands which runs through more than 500 kilometers. It is an underground city complete with hospital, kitchen, living quarters and offices. It is indeed an engineering feat. Above it all, monumental human endurance and determination for freedom - first from their colonial masters the French, afterward the US invaders.

What I least expected in my visit in Vietnam is their tremendous zeal for self-improvement through education. Most scholars think of the West when it comes to superiority in education. Wrong. Go to Ho Chi Minh University of Technology, named after the national hero in the Vietnam War. It is here where my wife, a friend of ours - Atty Edna Loberia, and I found Vietnam of today and how it is going to face the world - and win another war.

Author and wife, pose with Vietnamese alumni at the entrance to the University
Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HCMUT) is the leading university in teaching and research activities of Vietnam. It plays the active role in the fields of talents cultivation and providing manpower with strong technical skills to the Southern areas of Vietnam .
HCMUT is a center of technology - industry and management training. Graduate students from HCMUT have strong professional skills, which are recognized to be equivalent to those in advanced countries in the Southeast Asia. Its training activities have made remarkable contribution to satisfy the requirements of manpower for the industrialization and modernization of Vietnam generally and Southern Vietnam areas in particular.
Moreover, HCMUT is also the science research and technology transfer center which plays the key role in providing information and applying advanced technologies of developed countries and transferring to concerning industries in the Southern areas of Vietnam .

Peace and quiet in the shade of trees contribute to an ambiance conducive to learning.

Professors are relatively young. They are idealistic and nationalistic. Many trained abroad, particularly in the Asian region.

HCMUT has 11 faculties, 10 science research and industry transferring centers, 4 training centers, 10 functioning offices and one limited company. During the past 30 years since the Liberation of South Vietnam and country unification, 45,000 engineers and Bachelors have graduated from the university. Since 1994, it has granted 20,000 Bachelors of Science, 1,503 Masteral and 25 Doctorate, many of whom are either keeping management roles and or leading experts in state-owned or foreign-investment enterprises of different industries in Ho Chi Minh City and other southern provinces. HCMUT celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 highlighted by a national conference on science and technology.

The university is linked up with well known institutions like the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, Maastritcht of Netherlands, and Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. Vietnamese students studied agriculture at UP at Los BaƱos and IRRI. Today the Philippines import rice from Vietnam, the second largest rice exporter in the world.

New buildings have been built after liberation and reunification on the university's sprawling campus half an hour drive from the heart of the city - Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon

HCMUT's publishing house and book store.

A laboratory for microbiology

Environmental awareness outreach program of the University

The University continues to build new buildings to keep pace with research, education and training needed by the rapidly growing nation. Vietnam has posted an average growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 10 percent in the last decade, second highest in Asia after China.

A few minutes drive from the university is the city's plaza and garden which takes pride in protecting trees spared by the war. Third to the last photo is the historic brick cathedral built by the French during their occupation in Vietnam for more than two centuries.

Acknowledgment: Chi Minh University of Technology E-mail: 268 Ly Thuong Kiet St, Ward 14, District 10, HCM city. From Internet.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Abe V Rotor

Giant millipede

It was a plaything when we were young,
young farmhands and oh, what a fun;
diken-diken, as we called it then,
would sleep in the warmth of our hand.

then it crawled surreptitiously out,
and we tamed another just the same.
Eureka! we pupils of Mark Twain,
discovered the opossum game. ~

NOTE: Caution to children. Don't play with the millipede. When excited it exudes cyano gas, a defense against its enemies. Although the amount is small, this poisonous gas may be allergenic to sensitive individuals. Wash hands thoroughly after working where millipedes abound.

Living with Nature 3, AVR 2010

Mutation and Evolution

School on Blog

Abe V Rotor

For students in Development Biology, Ecology, and Genetics. Explain how mutation and evolution are taking place in this photograph.

A brood of Tussock Moth caterpillars. La Mesa, Novaliches, QC

Living with Nature 3, AVR 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Rainforest could be the biblical Lost Paradise immortalized in the masterpieces of John Milton

Dr Abe V Rotor

Gentle slope, and interior, of a virgin forest.

It was after dawn and smoke from nearby homesteads rose with the mountain mist in Carmen, between Davao City and Tagum, when I spotted a company of loggers carrying a wooden cage looking very much like an oversized onion crate. To my curiosity I looked into the cage and found a pair of flying lemurs locally called kaguiang in Bisaya or ninmal in Samal Moro, clinging upside down and cringing from the first light of morning.

Cynocephalus volans Linneaus, as the animal is scientifically called, is one of the rare mammals that can fly, an adaptation they share with the versatile bats. Unlike bats however, the flying lemur can only glide from tree to tree, a pair of thin expandable flap of skin and fur connecting the whole length of its front and hind legs serves as parachute and glider combined.

It was a pathetic sight. The pair was apparently captured when their natural habitat - tall trees that made the original forest were cut down for lumber, and the area subsequently converted into farmland in a most destructive system called swiden or kaingin farming.

Scientists warn us that the loss of natural habitats will result in the disappearance of organisms. This is true to the flying lemurs – and this is true to thousands of different inhabitants in the tropical rainforest, the richest biome on earth.

It is estimated that more than half the species of plants, animals and protists live in the tropical rainforests. According to a Time report, there are as many as 425 kinds of living plants that are naturally occupying a hectare of tropical rainforest in the Amazon. Similarly our own rainforest is as rich because the Philippine lies on the same tropical rainforest belt together with Indonesia and Malaysia in Southeast Asia. There are 3,500 species of indigenous trees in our rainforest.

Imagine a single tree as natural abode of ferns, orchids, insects, fungi, lichens, transient organisms - birds, monkeys, frogs, reptiles, insects and a multitude more that escape detection by our senses. The tropical rainforest must be God’s chosen natural bank of biodiversity. The “Lost Paradise” that the Genesis describes and literary giant John Milton classically wrote – Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained – is undoubtedly one that resembles a tropical rainforest.

Tropical Rainforest Profile

Let us look at the TRF profile like slicing a multi-layered cake and studying its profile. It is made up of storeys similar to a high-rise building. The “roof” or canopy is what we see as forest cover. Here and there are very tall trees called emergents jotting through the monotonous canopy like living towers.

From the air, the view of a tropical forest is one huge and continuous green blanket that catch the energy of the sun and through photosynthesis converts it into organic materials beginning with simple sugar to the most complex compounds from which useful materials are derived - wood, rubber, resin, and drugs, etc. These products are needed to sustain the life of countless organisms and the stability of the ecosystem itself.

From the forest floor, one can see only a little part of the sky, with the rays of the sun filtering through. But now and then, the trees, depending on the species, season and other environmental conditions, shed off their leaves, which can be compared to the molting of animals as they grow. Entire crowns of leaves fall and litter the forest floor. Transformation into humus continuously takes place with the aid of insects, bacteria, fungi, earthworms and the like. And this is very important because humus fertilizes the soil and conserves water acting as sponge and blanket.

This is one of the wonders of nature. Trees in a tropical rainforest have this special characteristic. They are not only self-fertilizing; they are soil builders. Through time, with the deciduous cycle repeated without end, the forest floor – even how thin the soil is, or how solid the underlying rock is – builds up, layer after layer, and it is this process that enables many organisms in the forest obtain their nutrition in order to grow.

Deciduousness allows sunlight to pour over the previously shaded plants occupying the various layers or storeys, which serve as specific habitats or niches. Occupying the lowest part of the forest, which is equivalent to the ground floor of a building, are mostly annuals, ferns and bryophytes. Next are the shrubs which occupy the lobby and second floor, followed by undergrowth trees that reach a height equivalent to the third and fourth floor, lianas and epiphytes which may reach as high as the eighth floor. It is not surprising to find emergent trees reaching up the 200 feet.

How big can a tree grow and for how long? Take the case of the Redwoods or Sequoia found growing in southern California and China. I saw a tree of this kind in southern Taiwan, recently killed by lightning. The tallest redwood, which is still growing today, is 267.4 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 40.3 feet. It is estimated to be 3,500 years old.

The analogy of the layers of a rainforest with a ten- or twelve-storey building gives us in imagination of the orderliness of nature in keeping the rich biodiversity of the ecosystem.

The true forest primeval – the rain forest – stands along the equator now reduced into a sanctuary of “living fossils” of plants and animals that once constituted the eternal green cover of the earth.

The canopy at one time or another allows the sky to meet the residents of the forest from the ground floor to the upper storeys - something that if you stand among the trees during this transformation you will find a kind of communion that, while it can be explained biologically, fills the spirit with the wonders and mysteries of nature.

The tropical rainforest is a natural menagerie where peace, music, colors, patterns, art and skill are not so well known to modern man. The high-perched artists like squirrels and monkeys are better acrobats by birth and practice than any known human acrobats. Many primates howl with electrifying, ear splitting and blood-chilling sound that breadth the land. Above plummet the masters of the sky – the Philippine eagle and hawks, spotting their preys which may be several kilometers away, or hundreds of meters below – something which our modern spotting scopes can not yet achieve with readiness and precision. Inside their tunnels the termite workers tap their way and chop the wood for their colony and themselves. The forest is composed to distinct ecosystems.

Part 2: Ecological Genocide through Deforestation

Abe V Rotor

Forest Fire, acrylic AVR 2001

Loss of Natural Habitat Results in Loss of Species

There is possibly no other term that can appropriately picture the magnitude of destruction by deforestation. The cutting down a whole forest evidently eliminates all inhabitants. While a number of them could escape and find shelter somewhere, most of the residents being habitat-specific, cannot survive without or outside their original abode or beyond the boundaries of their niches.

This is understandable. As an ecosystem, the forest is a product of evolution. Organisms evolve with their natural habitat, acquiring traits in the process. Nature is patient so to speak, to give chance for organisms to acquire the Darwinian fitness, otherwise they will perish. Many have gained dominance in terms of number. Others simply are persistent like the dragonfly that is older than the dinosaur and has remained a popular forest resident. Acquisition of protective or aggressive mimicry is a product of long years of evolution that shows that it is effective adaptation. A classical example is the relationship of fig trees with wasps that pollinate their flowers. Not even water or wind or man can effectively do it. More specific than this is the fact that each kind of fig has a particular wasp pollinator that carries out the job. And each kind of fig has a specific fruiting season, providing continuous supply of food to many animals, such as monkeys and ground fowls.

Premised by this knowledge, we now begin to realize that reforestation is not and will never be able to replace the original forest. Reforestation efforts are merely providing a temporary vegetative cover that cannot be compared with the structure of the original forest, much less to compare it with the latter’s productive efficiency and biodiversity. Here are other premises to support this contention.

1. Nature, and not man, determines the species composition and combination in a forest. We may be referring to a woodland - not a forest - when we see Gmelina, Ipil-ipil and Teak plantations. These are intended to produce commercial wood or pulpwood for paper.

2. The landscape and the forest developed together - geographically, geologically, and biologically. Streams and springs are full because trees store rainwater in the ground; the roots and natural vegetative cover check erosion and siltation. Thus the death of a forest means also the death of streams, drying of river, silting of lakes and ponds into swamp, meandering of rivers, etching of gullies on hills and mountainsides, to mention but a few consequences.

3. Abandoned deforested areas continue to lose not only soil fertility; they lose the entire soil structure, beginning with the most fertile topsoil to the clay foundation next to bedrock. In short, through erosion the foothold built for thousands of years could be lost permanently. We can only surmise what kinds of plant grow in such situation. It is not surprising to see wasteland of talahib and cogon grass on former forestlands.

4. The forest creates a mini-climate. Forest attracts clouds. Transpiration enhances precipitation so that rain occurs anytime of the day, hence the name rainforest. All this can be permanently lost with the destruction of the forest. This explains why desertification (formation of desert) starts at deforested areas. Southern Cebu, in spite of its proximity to sea, is a typical example where one can observe the pathetic gnawing process. This can be observed also on the Sierra Madre starting in Bulacan, and on extensive areas along the narrow strip of the Ilocos region.

Century old acacia tree (above), San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur; and towering kapok (Ceiba pentandra), UP Diliman. Trees of this size and age make an ecosystem themselves, being the abode of many organisms that form a food web and pyramid.

Part 3: Tropical Rainforest's Last Stand

Dr Abe V Rotor

Tagaytay Ridge is fast losing its forest cover to land conversion and erosion.
Stricter land use policy and environmental protection are crucial and urgent.

A long list of vanished and vanishing species - even those that have not been discovered and named – haunts the human species, Homo sapiens, the most intelligent of all creatures. If this is not an evidence of the original sin which he continues to commit since his early ancestors were driven from Paradise, then we are merely being led to believe in something bound by deep faith, and in something supernatural.

Every time we destroy a forest, a coral reef, or grassland, we are repeating the fault of our ancestors. The biblical story is fiction if we fail to grasp its essence. True, exile comes in many ways. But definitely, if an ecosystem is destroyed, if it loses its capacity to provide the basic needs of its inhabitants, starvation, death, and other forms of deprivation follow. Does this not trigger exile – or exodus, which is the ultimate recourse for survival?

Here is a poem I wrote upon reaching Tagum. It is about the destruction of a forest I related in the first part of this article.

Lost Forest

Staccato of chirping meets the breeze and sunrise,
Waking the butterflies, unveiled by the rising mist;
Rush the stream where fishes play with the sunbeam
And the rainforest opens, a stage no one could miss,
With every creature in a role to play without cease.

John Milton wrote his masterpiece of Paradise,
While Beethoven composed sonata with ecstasy,
Jean Fabre and Edwin Teale with lens in hand
Discovered a world Jules Verne didn’t see,
And Aldo Leopold’s ecosystem's unity.

For how long to satiate man’s greed can nature sustain?
It was not long time ago since progress became a game,
Taking the streets, marching uphill to the mountain,
Where giant machines roar, ugly men at the helm -
Folly, ignorance and greed are one and same.

Philippine Dipterocarp forests occupied almost 14 million hectares in 1960 What is left today is only three million hectares. The average rate of decline is over 2 percent annually. What is more alarming is the decline in the volume of trees in the forest which around 6 percent in the last 40 years. All over the world, annual deforestation represents an area as large as Luxemburg. This means every tick of the clock is a hectare of rainforest permanently erased from the globe. ~

Living with Nature 3, AVR