Genius and goodness of a National Scientist

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The science community is still mourning the demise on October 24, 2015 of a great Filipino scientist.

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National Scientist Dr. Benito Vergara, who succumbed to a heart attack at 81, was remembered by his loving family, friends, colleagues, fellow Academicians and National Scientists, and the rest of the science community, during a necrological service held in his honor at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Bicutan, Taguig City (Metro Manila) five days later on October 29.

In their eulogy, National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines President and Academician William Padolina and Academician Ruben Villareal, chairman of NAST Phl’s agricultural sciences division, recognized Vergara’s significant role in the science sector, specifically in agriculture.

DOST Secretary Mario Montejo noted that the department and the whole science community will always remember and honor Vergara’s contributions and achievements, most especially his life passion in making Aling Maria and Mang Juan feel the main theme of science and technology in their lives, which DOST dubs as “Agham na Ramdam.”

The man behind the development of the Riceworld Museum and the Philippine Heritage Center in NAST was recognized for his exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge on plant physiology and for promoting Philippine science locally and internationally.

His fascination with plants led him to his decision to pursue agriculture.

He obtained his BS Botany degree from UP Diliman in 1955, MS Botany from the University of Hawaii in 1959 and PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of Chicago in 1960.

Afterward, he worked as an assistant professor at UP Los Baños in 1961. This was followed by a long stint at the then newly launched International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as associate plant physiologist in 1969, and then as plant physiologist in 1970 and finally, as head plant physiologist in 1984.

At IRRI, Vergara focused on three major research areas: the flowering response of rice to photoperiodism (the plant’s ability to flower in response to seasonal changes), rice physiology and deep-water rice.

He then worked on the physiology of deep-water rice and flood-tolerant rice plant and developed techniques and methods for the development of rice-growing.

His methods were later adopted by national breeding programs and other rice-growing countries.

Vergara was also behind the conceptualization of a model for the super rice for higher rice yield.

His group pioneered research on the possible effects of ozone depletion in the atmosphere on the growth, development and yield of rice.

Vergara’s passion in promoting science to the public gave way to the publication of his book Farmer’s Primer on Growing Rice, published in more than 50 languages and used around the world.

In addition, he also published a plant catalogue and a children’s literature about the rice plant.

For his achievements, he was elected as Academician to the NAST Phl in 1987 and was conferred the title National Scientist in 2001, the highest award accorded to Filipino scientists.

Vergara is survived by his wife Lina Manalo-Vergara, who was IRRI’s first head librarian, sons Sunny and Happy, daughter Joy and four grandchildren.
S&T Media Service

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