DOST honors Rizal, the scientist

With Secretary Fortunato de la Peña at the helm, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) commemorated the 125th anniversary of Jose Rizal’s execution in a profound and meaningful manner. It all began in 2019, during the Rizal Day breakfast at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) where the DOST Secretary and members of the National Research Council of the Philippines affirmed that: “Dapat nating itaas  ang  kamalayan at kaalaman tungkol sa papel ni Rizal  sa paghubog sa agricultura ng bansa.” They declared that Jose Rizal was the first Filipino naturalist.

Last December 2021, the DOST conducted a series of webinars to remind us Filipinos that our national hero was not just a writer, poet, painter, linguist, sculptor, organizer, he was a polymath. He was above all a man of science who believed that the educational system should be based on science, not on fanaticism and obscurantist thoughts. Education should instill in every Filipino a “sentimiento nacional”, Rizal used to say; that means love of country, a sense of nationalism. In his two novels, Rizal wrote sarcastically humorous remarks about how generally unscientific education was during his time.

I joined the 30 December webinar as I could not go to the unveiling of yet another Rizal monument, this time in the DOST premises in Taguig.  In his opening statement, historian Francis Geolago, Phd, announced that the speakers will not entertain pot boiler questions about how many girlfriends Rizal had, whom he loved the most, whether or not he was against the revolution and at odds with Bonifacio.  Dr. Geolago gave a brief explanation of the word “ilustrados”, as if to dispel the rumor that all ilustrados were enemies of the people.  He said, they had “kaalaman at karunungang pang lipunan”. He emphasized that many were men of science like Jose Rizal.   As an ophthalmologist he practiced with the two most famous ones in Europe, Dr. Louis de Wecker in Paris and Dr. Otto Becker in Heidelberg.  Rizal also had a degree in Agrimensura (Land Surveying and Assessment) from the Ateneo which certainly came in handy when he was exiled in Dapitan.

Dr. Geolago said that instead of wallowing in depression (magmukmok) in a God-forsaken place like Dapitan, Rizal fastened himself to the task of improving the quality of life in that distant town. He made a potable water system, lighted streets with coconut oil, gave free medical care and opened a school where young boys got a holistic education.  He improved agricultural as well as fishing methods.   With the money he won in the lottery, he bought a piece of land, planted abaca, rice, fruit trees and taught  Dapitanons how to be agri-entrepreneurs.  Dr. Geolago also explained the importance of the relief map of Mindanao that Rizal made in the plaza; it was not just decorative.  The contoured map made people aware of crucial topographical features of the island.

Needless to say, the rest of the speakers were scientists: Drs. Arvin Diezmas and Aimee Dupo, eminent herpetologists, presented slides of rare insects, reptiles and amphibians found In Dapitan and other parts of the country. They spoke about a frog specimen collected by Rizal which was named  Racophorus  Rizali in 1899 by the German zoologist,  Oskar Boettger.  A flying dragon lizard was named Dracheo Rizali and a rare beetle,  Apogania Rizali.

From UP Los Baños came Assistant Prof.  Rina Bonconan of the Department of Social Science to present the history of the Hacienda de Calamba and the plight of the agricultural sector in Rizal’s time.  NHCP’s Eufemio Agbayani expounded on Rizal’s experience of turning farmers into entrepreneurs. Present was Mrs. Ester Azurin, a descendant of Paciano Rizal, living proof that agri-entrepreneurship is in the family DNA.

Many gazes were riveted on a 3 D printed monument, 12.5 feet high, resistant to typhoons, titled, “Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the Filipino Scientist.” It was made by the DOST’s Metal Industry Research and Development Center. It must have cost a fortune; how I wish the DOST had restored   Rizal’s Dapitan water system instead before it’s too late.

Sec. de la Peña said we are not aware the DOST has been following the footsteps of Jose Rizal in the GIDA project—Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas—of which the Department of Health is a partner.  Like Rizal, they use local resources to solve local problems and the community is always involved in the planning. That made my day.