National scientist Alcala honored with state funeral

The coffin of National Scientist Angel C. Alcala in front of the Silliman University Church in Dumaguete City on Friday, February 10.*Alex Rey Pal photo

National Scientist Angel C. Alcala, world renowned expert on marine protection and conservation, was honored with a state funeral, which included a 21-gun salute, on Friday, February 10.

Close to a thousand people attended the funeral even after heavy rainfall early Friday morning, and under the searing heat by noon during the burial at the Gardens Memorial Park in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.

Alcala, who was born in Cauayan, Negros Occidental, died on February 1 at the age of 93.

During the necrological service at the Silliman University Church and the state funeral organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology, the country’s various science experts took turns extolling the virtues and recalling the pioneering accomplishments of Alcala throughout his professional career, which started when he was a masteral and doctoral student at Stanford University in the 60s.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who had a message delivered while he is in Japan for a state visit, said the country is not only mourning the loss of National Scientist Alcala, but also “celebrating his life as an ardent scientist.”

The President said Alcala’s pioneering works is now paving the way for younger generations to learn their responsibility to the environment. He said because of Alcala’s works, more Filipinos now have a heightened awareness of the environment.

“Dr. Alcala always went beyond what was expected of him,” Marcos said, referring to the inroads he made as well as his work as the first chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education, where he established centers of excellence and centers of development in universities around the country.

“Dr. Alcala achieved so much in 93 years because of his love of country”, Marcos said, adding that his legacy is an encouragement for all Filipinos to find sustainable solutions to our environmental problems.

“Dr. Alcala has brought honor and pride to our country,” the President said.

Academicians from the NAST flew in from Manila, and called Alcala a “hero of science” as his love for the environment was always reflected in his research works.

Eufemio Rasco Jr., NAST interim president, likened the passing of Alcala to “losing a rare national treasure”. But he said there is hope as the genes of Alcala continue to live in his six children, now in their senior years, his 17 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Alcala is survived by his wife of 70 years, Naomi Lusoc-Alcala, and his younger siblings.

Rasco said Alcala was prolific with his pioneering research studies in marine protection and conservation, but that his work is not complete. He enjoined the country’s scientific community to follow Alcala’s footsteps, and continue his campaign to establish more extensive networks of community-based no-take marine protected areas (MPAs) that he pioneered at Apo Island off the coast of the town of Dauin — a model of which is showcased at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois.

He also urged the country’s educational institutions to include protection and conservation in their courses, and pleaded with academic researchers to direct their efforts to the applied sciences — where very few dare to tread — especially studies on MPAs.

“Alcala’s life story is a good example how a researcher can become a credible scientist and change-maker”, Rasco said.

Rasco thanked Silliman University for the “priceless gift” it gave to nation, and Dumaguete for being the “proper environment for Alcala to grow, bloom, and bear fruit”.

Dr. Betty Cernol-Mccann, president of Silliman University, said Alcala was a role model for all, “a man of character and faith, the hallmarks of a true Sillimanian”.

Dr. Lourdes Cruz, of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences division of the NAST, said she remembers Alcala for being generous in sharing his knowledge with other people, who always took time to talk with students about conservation. Cruz is now one of nine living National Scientists.

Dr. Arvin Diesmos of NAST said he would never forget his mentor Dr. Alcala since the early 90s for his stamina to engage in his prolific research life. He recalled scaling Mt. Banahaw at 1,500 masl with Alcala, who was 65 at that time, and catching lizards in 2012 in Siargao, even when Alcala was 82.

Prof. Gary Russ of James Cook University referred to his colleague in coral reef conservation as the “father of community-based marine resources management in the world”.

“Angel was the foremost authority in PH amphibians and reptiles, an achievement that alone defined him as a world renowned scientist. He was a recognized expert on PH frogs, lizards, snakes and crocodiles”, Russ said.

The eulogies were punctuated with beautiful renditions of songs and hymns by the SU Church Covenant Choir and the SU Campus Choristers conducted by Prof. Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarea.

One local journalist who has covered the work of Alcala the last 35 years said that various words of accolades have been said of the man but none could approximate the depth and magnitude of his accomplishments in the lives of thousands of fishers, students, mentees, and colleagues in the field.

Alcala was named National Scientist in 2014, , 9th president of Silliman University (1991-1992), Department Environment Natural Resources secretary (1992-1995), Commission on Higher Education chairperson (1995-1998) and a 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service.*

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