The Long View: The scientific imperative

The Long View
The scientific imperative

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:09:00 05/15/2008

Benjamin Espina may be familiar to you as a debater and blogger-advocate of Atheism ( He’s also begun writing for Filipino Voices (, a blog that’s aggregating some of the most interesting social and political commentators online. In his first Filipino Voices entry, Espina describes how my fellow columnist (and regular on my show, The Explainer, on ANC) Patricia Evangelista has inspired young people to try out for the privilege of representing the country at the English Speaking Union International Public Speaking Competition held annually in London. After all, winning that competition was Evangelista’s first claim to fame.

According to Espina, a 16-year-old student from the Philippine Science High School bucked the trend by addressing the theme of the competition, “New Horizons, New Frontiers,” by speechifying not on self-improvement but instead on how research has progressed in our country. Instead of waxing poetic on generalities, the young man, Gian Karlo Dapul, decided to talk about fish mucus and foot fungi: scientific frontiers. Dapul won the competition here at home, and went on to represent our country in London, where he recently bagged first prize.

You can – and should – read Gian Karlo Dapul’s speech, “Fish Mucus and Foot Fungus” (reproduced at and hearken to Dapul’s call for public support for science fairs and contests. This young man intends to be that rare thing, a Filipino researcher in science; and he advocates that rare thing, a dedication to science and its problem-solving principles.

Last month, Fortune Magazine did an article on carbon credits. One example they gave was from the Philippines.

Fortune reported on Daniel Co, who raises about 10,000 pigs on a farm called Uni-Rich Agro Industrial in Tarlac province. That many pigs result in a heck of a lot of pig poop. What to do with all that poop? According to Fortune, the usual method is to shovel the poop into concrete ponds, where it can rot away – producing oodles of methane, and a heck of a stink. And that’s for conscientious hog raisers. Environmentalists regularly battle hog raisers who simply divert all the poop into the nearest river.

Well, the enterprising Daniel Co got interested in biogas technology. What if he could seal the pig poop ponds, and thereby trap all that stinky gas, and with the gas, produce electricity? But to do so would mean spending something in the neighborhood of $200,000. Apparently, Co is an enterprising type and he found out he could get paid to turn pig poop into gas for generating electricity.

Countries committed to reducing greenhouse emissions can invest in projects in the developing world. Projects with a measurable impact then produce credits, called Certified Emissions Reduction, or CER, certificates, which are tradable.

The long and short of all this is that EcoSecurities, an Irish company, identified Co’s piggery as among the “carbon-mitigation projects.” Its experts, according to Fortune, calculated that the methane from Co’s piggery would generate 2,929 CERs a year.

Here’s how Fortune says it all came together: “EcoSecurities offered to pay Uni-Rich $4 per credit, or $12,000 a year, every year, until Kyoto expires in 2012, and to handle all the paperwork at the United Nations, which registered the project late in 2006. Uni-Rich then installed the methane digesters.

“Now, thanks to the magic of carbon finance, Daniel Co and his family treasure their pig waste. They use it to produce electricity, which has reduced their utility bills by about $48,000 a year. They collect their $12,000 a year in carbon revenues. EcoSecurities, in turn, will sell the credits for about $18 each, or $54,000 a year, to a big French bank called Caisse des Dépôts.”

So indeed, there’s gold in them thar pigs – and their poop!

On my show Tuesday night, a spokesman for the hog-raising industry said that in China, the wastes of entire villages are used to produce biogas. You know there’s a shortage of millions of toilets in Metro Manila alone: public health and rising energy costs could be addressed by building public toilets so that if you poop in a public toilet, it can help generate electricity for your neighborhood. How’s that for sending a signal to National Power Corp? Or Manila Electric Co.?

Energy alone provides oodles of opportunity: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. can point to the windmills of the Ilocos region; the Cordilleras boasts mini-hydroelectric dams; but we have yet to explore the energy that can be produced from harnessing the waves and tidal flow from our enormous coastlines.

In agriculture, Israeli advances in a kind of irrigation that relies on the underground distribution of water. And fertilizer (which minimizes water loss due to evaporation and delivers water and nutrients directly to the roots of plants) is being studied for use in sugar-producing areas; it has already been adopted in Bukidnon province, where mountainsides have been given over the production of a particularly high-value variety of bananas that require a cooler climate. The amount of rice lost to primitive drying methods – consider the usual sight of “palay” [rice before milling] laid out on roadsides in the provinces – and to pests could surely be addressed by harnessing our tinkering mentality. You only need to offer incentives.

And, of course, you need the right policy environment. The Department of Science and Technology (DoST) celebrates its 50th anniversary – underfunded, understaffed and underutilized. We could have avoided the ZTE national broadband network (NBN) fiasco and the controversies surrounding CyberEd, if officials had focused, instead, on DoST’s PREGINET (

(See also my 1995 article, “Canned adobo and other S&T adventures,” at

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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