Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day from this humble people servant & development expert from Luzon!

Genetic engineering with its state of the art R&D has been developing in the Philippines since the 1960s yet. The birth of the International Rice Research Institute in 1964, which its international sponsors decided to base in Laguna, Philippines, provided a huge impetus to the birth and growth of the life sciences using genetic engineering methodologies.

The spread of biotechnology to fruits, vegetables, livestocks, aquatic and marine was gradual, proceeding silently though surely in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Then, there came the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization or WTO that suddenly raised issues related to GMOs, with detractors demonizing biotechnology with acerbity and hostility. I myself was surprised at the attacks, since I was aware that genetic engineering had already been in operation in the country for almost four (4) decades before PH’s signing of the GATT-Uruguay Rounds in 1994!

Fortunately, the social media have shown a welcoming attitude towards genetic modification, with only a few journalists and tv reporters manifesting antipathy that is, to my mind, based on ignorance and superstition. The increase in the numbers of science journalists, some of whom are faculty members of top universities while others (e.g. medical doctors) are veteran medical practitioners, surely helped to catalyze public acceptance of genetic modification as a promising methodology to improve life and contribute to economic development.

Below is the gladdening news about the Philippines’ biotech boosted by social media as reported in the

[Philippines, 05 October 2011]
Media coverage boosts biotech in the Philippines
Nora O. Gamolo
16 September 2011
[MANILA] Favourable media coverage may have influenced public acceptance of biotechnology in the Philippines, according to researchers.
A ten-year study published in the latest issue of The Journal of Science Communication of the coverage of agricultural biotechnology in the Philippines’ three leading newspapers showed that they published an average of 136 articles a year.
In comparison, a similar study from 1990 to 2001 showed that The Times in London and The Washington Post published a maximum of 80 articles per year.
So far, the Philippines is the only Asian country to have approved the commercial planting of Bt corn, a genetically modified crop. Despite being a relatively small player in the biotech field, the Philippines is ranked eleventh worldwide in terms of area planted to biotech crops.
The researchers points out that although the news on agricultural biotechnology was generally positive, the issue was not high on the media agenda, usually appearing on the inside pages of newspapers.
All three local dailies have dedicated science or agriculture sections, and the researchers found that 85% of the biotech articles were in news form, usually in these sections. They noted that in contrast, in the United States, only 4 per cent of the articles appeared in science sections.
“News coverage was also timed with important events, with reports peaking during 2002 to 2005, largely because of developments concerning Bt corn,” said lead author Mariechel Navarro of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications in Manila.
Biotechnology had to compete with other reports on political and economic controversies that besieged the Philippines, the researchers noted. Many articles concentrated on biosafety issues.
Daniel Ocampo, campaigns coordinator for Greenpeace, said that reporters often missed out on other dimensions of biotechnology in the Philippines.
“What was being covered were only genetically modified crops, but these were not the whole of biotechnology,” said Ocampo. Efforts by scientists and civil society groups to develop saline-tolerant and water-tolerant crops, for example, were not written up, he said, “because these were not scandalous”.
Others point out that journalists writing about biotechnology need support to sharpen their skills. “Writers need training, orientation and exposure, even including laboratory exposure, to write about biotechnology and make it real to themselves,” said science writer Melody Aguiba.
Joel Paredes, a biotechnology advocate and journalist, believes that scientists do not do enough to help. “Writers find it hard to write about and simplify biotechnology,” he complained, adding that the Bt corn controversy in the Philippines arose from scientists’ refusal to share information.
He was recently put off by one scientist involved in developing genetically modified ‘golden rice’ because the scientist needed clearance before he could release information about his agency’s involvement with the crop.

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