STATE VIGIL The wake of the late National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala is held at the Silliman University Church in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental province. A state funeral will be accorded to the deceased National Scientist, who passed away at age 94 on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo courtesy of the Dr. Angel Alcala Facebook page

Ex-Environment chief Alcala, 93

FORMER Environment secretary and National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala passed away last Wednesday, February 1, at the age of 93.

In a statement issued by the Department of Science and Technology, Alcala was recognized for his contributions in systematics, ecology, and diversity of amphibians and reptiles and marine biodiversity, reef fishes, and the conservation of marine protected areas.

His research and advocacy for marine no-take zones resulted in policy that established marine protected areas across the Philippines and became a model of coastal resource management,

Alcala was born on March 1, 1929 in the coastal village of Caliling in Cauayan, Negros Occidental. He studied at Silliman University, where he took his Bachelor of Science in Biology, magna cum laude, in 1951.

He received his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences from Stanford University in 1960 and 1966, respectively.

Alcala began as an instructor of Biology at Silliman University and rose from the ranks, including being the dean of the College of Arts of Sciences, director of the Marine Laboratory, and eventually University president from 1991 to 1992.

He founded the Silliman Marine Laboratory, which remains active in research on marine-protected areas, fisheries, and marine biodiversity, mariculture and conservation of Philippine plant and animal studies.

Then president Fidel V. Ramos appointed Alcala as secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, where he initiated the marine conservation programs of the department.

He also was the first chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) from 1995 to 1999, where he promoted faculty capacity building and research projects to encourage research programs in colleges and universities.

CHEd, in its message on its Facebook page, said that Alcala left behind a “colorful legacy in the history of higher education as a former CHEd Chairperson who played a pivotal role in building sanctuaries and promoting biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems.”

Alcala published 80 papers on coral reef fish, marine reserves, and the long-term effects of protection on marine biodiversity such as corals and predatory fish.

Some of his awards were the Likas Yaman award by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in 1979, the Ilaw ng Karunungan Award by the Philippine Fulbrighters Association in 1983, Outstanding Biologist by the National Science and Technology Authority in 1985, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1992, Outstanding Men and Women of Science by the DoST in 2009, and the Gregorio Y. Zara Award for Science by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science Inc.

He was elected to the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST-PHL) as an academician and was conferred the Order of National Scientist by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd on June 6, 2014 by virtue of Proclamation 783.

As a national scientist, Alcala is entitled to a state funeral to be conducted by the NAST PHL and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Tributes pour in

Tributes for Dr. Alcala came from across the country.

“Silliman University was a pioneer of marine biodiversity and marine conservation in the Philippines and a pillar of the University,” the university wrote on Facebook. “SU mourns the loss of a scientist, administrator, trustee, professor, morally upright family man, and public servant.”

The flag at Silliman University is now flying at half-mast. His remains lie at the university’s church.

Among the first to give their tribute was the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) mourns the passing of National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala, who is known as the’ father of marine protected areas’,” a Facebook statement from the BFAR wrote on Thursday. “Among Dr. Alcala’s significant contributions to marine biology and ecological conservation include the promotion of sustainable fishing and use of artificial reefs for fisheries in the region, as well as establishment of community-based coastal resources management.”

“We join the international community in mourning the passing of a Filipino marine biologist and scientist and the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay,” the Ramon Magsaysay Award wrote on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile, the Masungi Georeserve on Thursday paid tribute to its “First Defender.”

“We mourn the passing of national scientist and former DENR Secretary Dr. Angel Alcala, whom we consider as ‘Masungi’s First Defender,'” the Georeserve wrote on Facebook.

“Until his passing, he continued to be an ally for Masungi. Thank you Dr. Alcala for being a shining light for the Philippine environment. We will do our best to keep your legacy alive.”

Fulbright Philippines in a statement on Friday, mourning Alcala’s loss.

“The Philippine-American Educational Foundation mourns the loss of National Scientist and Fulbrighter Dr. Angel Alcala,” a Facebook statement wrote.

“Dr. Alcala served as a prime example of being a trailblazer and pioneer in his respective field because of the Fulbright program.”

On Friday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the Philippines also paid tribute to Alcala.

“We are mourning the loss of a conservation hero and a dear friend, Dr. Angel Alcala,” the WWF wrote.

“From the time of WWF-Philippines’ founding in 1997, Dr. Alcala was a constant, kind and wise presence to us. He was instrumental in the founding and development of the organization and served on WWF-Philippines’ National Advisory Council since the Council’s formation in 2008.”

On Saturday, the La Consolacion College Manila library also paid tribute to the late Alcala.

Silliman University said that donations can be made through the Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management, to continue his work.

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