From Public Servant to University Professor
An interview with Dr. Abercio V. Rotor, former director, National Food Authority; and chief consultant, food and agriculture, Senate of the Philippines.
Miss Jannie SM Rojas interviews
Dr Abe V Rotor in his office-residence.
1. How long did you serve the government?
Twenty-two long years, all in all, until I opted to take the early retirement package.
What reason did you retire early?
I thought I had done my part in government service. That was in 1989, the turning point of the globe, so to speak. USSR was dissolved, the two Germanys united, the Cold War ended, the Internet began to wire the world, the Philippines was overly sober with People Power euphoria. I wanted a change of career as well.
2. It’s quite strange, but was it for good that you would rather be a university professor than to remain a public servant?
Terms tend to be semantics, whichever, it is still service to the country and people. I found both challenging and fulfilling.
3. How would you measure your output in government vis-avis with that in the academe?
Well, you really can’t compare, but I am proud to say I was part of the success of the Philippine Food Self-sufficiency Program which spanned for two decades. Then I wrote books about it, but more than that, the assurance of sustainability – economic and environmental. This is the deviation, a change in the conventional concept of development.
4. Are you saying development programs lack safety net for environmental protection and the assurance of future generations?
If I may say so, yes. If we look into global warming, acid rain, erosion and siltation and the like, leading to decreasing productivity and destruction of the ecosystems.
5. Then how could you relate economic development and environmental conservation?
When I was with the government I thought economic development was the key to human progress and stability of society. Our capitalistic system – and socialism as well – did not prove this to be true. There’s limit to growth. And the irony is that the very factors to growth on reaching a plateau drastically decline to a catastrophic dive. This is evident in the EU’s danger of dissolution, the US fledging economic reform, financial crisis the world over, massive unemployment, Arab Spring uprising, Occupy Wall Street, etc. This is disturbing globally. Unless we equate economics and ecology, we will sacrifice one over the other, and vice versa. There has to be a harmonious formula.
6. Did you advise the Senate and Malacañang about all these in your time?
No, I was naïve. Actually I was not sure. Even if I was I would not stand against the current of change which was too swift at that time.
7. You are saying it’s only now that you realize development is following a wrong path.
There are many people like me who think this is so, but they also believe it’s not late to take the better route to solve recession, global warming, pandemic diseases, now ecomigration where people are displaced by the rising sea and violent force majeure.
8. Going back to your experience in the government, what is it to you the meaning of “a public office is a public trust?”
It’s a motherhood statement, a motto, and guiding principle. It makes government service a vocation. But more than efficiency, integrity, loyalty, the government needs leaders with ideas, even if that idea has yet to come. For example. “Reaganomics” (produce and stimulate market), was ahead of its time. Wireless technology binds people around the world – a remote idea come true.
9. What you are saying is that a public servant should also be a scholar in his own right.
That’s the path I took, and I hope I'm in the right direction.
10. You seem very active at your age. How old are you sir, if you don’t mind?
I’m past seventy – I’m in the golden years of my life.
Interviewer’s Notes about Abercio V Rotor, PhD.
Award-winning author of "The Living with Nature Handbook" (Gintong Aklat Award 2003) and "Living with Nature in Our Times" (National Book Award 2008); professor, University of Santo Tomas; School-on-Air instructor, (Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid, winner of Gawad Oscar Florendo for Development Communication) DZRB 738 KHzAM Band, 8 to 9 o'clock evening, Monday to Friday.); Outstanding Teacher in the Philippines (Commission on Higher Education - CHED 2002); Filipino Scientist (DOST-Batong Balani); former Director, National Food Authority; and Consultant on food and agriculture, Senate of the Philippines. Dr Rotor’s radio program is linked with the Internet – Living with Nature, School on Blog (avrotor.blogspot.com or Dr Abe V Rotor or Living with Nature School on Blog).