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Dr. Oscar M. Lopez to the 2012 UPD graduates: “Protect the environment”

Chancellor Caesar A. Saloma

(April 25)— “It is our responsibility, each and everyone of us, to protect our environment from further harm.”

Oscar M. Lopez, chairman emeritus of the Lopez Holdings Corporation and the First Philippine Holdings Corporation, strongly urged the almost 4,000 University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) graduates to protect the environment at the 101st General Commencement Exercises on April 22.

The keynote speaker, Lopez was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his “distinguished service to learning and to humankind through his lifelong passion for biodiversity conservation which fires his generous support for research in the biological sciences, thereby helping strengthen the science of plant taxonomy, tropical forest ecology, and wildlife biology in our country.”

The ceremony was held at the UP Amphitheater at the back of the Quezon Hall.

In his speech, the Lopez group patriarch reminded the UPD graduates that “...when you see that things around you are not quite right, you cannot remain a bystander.  These causes that we take on over the course of our race of Life are what we call our advocacies.”

He shared that his personal advocacy is to protect the environment. He urged the graduates to also take care of the environment, “for in abusing our environment, we have made ourselves vulnerable to the undesirable effects of that abuse.”

Part of his commitment to protect the environment is to involve the Lopez Group Foundation, Inc., which represents their major businesses, in establishing and funding a center for collaborative research on climate change and natural hazards. This endeavor will still have to be agreed and acted upon.

Dr. Oscar Lopez

The principal purpose, he said, “is to encourage and fund research undertakings by both scientific faculty and students in the country’s major academic institutions such as your own [UP], and to encourage joint research undertakings between those academic institutions, as well as between the academe and government.”

Lopez emphasized that the Philippines is still one of the world’s biologically richest countries but is on the brink of an extinction crisis.

He said, “As late as 1945, two-thirds of our country was still covered by old-growth forests. Of our coral reefs, it is reported that less than five percent remain in excellent condition, and only one percent in pristine state. And yet,  unmitigated logging and urbanization continue and we persist in depleting whatever few resources we have left.”

He paid tribute to his friend, Leonard Co, a UPD instructor and one of the leading botanists in the country. Lopez said Cowas “someone who I hope will take his place in UP’s pantheon of heroes if he hasn’t yet...His life was tragically cut short in November 2010 as he conducted forest preservation work for one of our energy companies, the Energy Development Corporation, but he and his companions were mistaken as NPAs (New People’s Army) by the roving army security guards in the Leyte mountain areas.”

According to the GMA News Online report by Howie Severino on November 18, 2010, Co and two other companions, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, “were killed in a hail of gunfire coming from the Army soldiers who his family believes mistook the research team for New People’s Army rebels. However, Severino reported that “the Army has insisted that the civilians were killed in the crossfire when government troops and the NPA clashed in the forests of Kananga town in Leyte province.”

He spoke of Co’s mastery of taxonomy, botany and how he considered the forest as his classroom. “I have waited a long time to share my memories of Leonard here [in UP], in what was his home next to the forests. I am so very grateful for this opportunity to have been able to do so this afternoon.”

Lopez further spoke about the effects of degradation that people are inflicting on the environment. He encouraged the graduates to do their own research to assure themselves that “the threat I have described to you is very real and very immediate. Then take action and arm and protect yourselves, for this environment that we have so gravely abused has begun striking back at us in horrific ways that we could never have imagined.”

He mentioned how global warming has changed the world’s climate and weather patterns; the aftermath and consequences of the storms Ondoy and Sendong; the catastrophic landslide in Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte that claimed 1,000 lives in 2006; the Ormoc flashflood in 1991; the Luzon earthquake in 1990 that devastated Baguio City; and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, also in 1991, among others.

Charlton Sean D. Gaerlan

As he painted the grim effects of abusing the environment, Lopez forewarned the graduates to “[be] afraid, be very afraid. Because we don’t know where or when the next disaster is going to hit. We don’t have the means to try to model, forecast or forewarn where the next disaster is likely to happen.”

He pointed out that “The wanton destruction of our environment is, first and foremost, a governance issue. We have laws in abundance to protect our environment. But the very people who are supposed to be the keepers of the law, the guardians of our environment, are oftern among the worst exploiters.”

In addition he said, “at the root of the problem of environmental degradation is the problem of graft and corruption, and the problem of abuse of power.”

Finally, he urged the graduates to  do their share by being responsible citizens and by educating those around them to act responsibly.

UPD Chancellor Caesar A. Saloma, on the other hand, emphasized the need for UP “to perform better in order to accomplish its purpose as the national university of the country.”

He also reminded the graduates that, “You are here because you have proven—to your teachers, to your parents, and to yourselves—that you have what it takes to succeed, to triumph over years of challenges that those who have not had the inclination to study at UP can only imagine. And now is the time to remember, and to substantiate—to yourselves, and to all Filipinos—that you are an Iskolar ng Bayan, a child of the University of the Philippines. Remember that you are special not because you have been trained in the best university of the country but because you are duty-bound to serve our people. Prove to our fellow citizens that investing in UP is the right thing to do for the country.”

Speaking on behalf of the graduating class of 2012, Charlton Sean D. Gaerlan, summa cum laude, said that UP students proactively respond to the problems of society in various ways such as participating in protest rallies against social and political issues, organizing fund raising projects for feeding and relief programs for the poor, or teaching students in public schools.

Although they have different means of helping the nation, Gaerlan said the Iskolar ng Bayan has one goal and that is to show his or her sincerity in helping other people and providing solutions to the ailing society despite being confronted with their own problems and responsibilities.

Lastly, he asked his fellow graduates to “...embody UP’s motto: Honor and Excellence” and show the nation that they deserve to be called Iskolar ng Bayan. —Haidee C. Pineda

Chancellor's Welcome Remarks

UP President's Message

Dr. Oscar M. Lopez Commencement Speech

Valedictory Address

Meet the Summas