The science community mourned the demise of a great Filipino scientist on October 24, 2015 due to a heart attack.
National Scientist Dr. Benito S. Vergara, 81, was remembered by his loving family, friends, colleagues, fellow Academicians and National Scientists, and the rest of the science community during the necrological service held in his honor at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Bicutan, Taguig City five days later on October 29.
In their eulogy, National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST Phl) President Academician William G. Padolina and Academician Ruben L. Villareal, chair of NAST Phl’s agricultural sciences division, recognized Vergara’s significant role in the science sector, specifically in agriculture.
Meanwhile, DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo noted that the DOST and the whole science community will always remember and honor his 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.”
In particular, the man behind the development of the Riceworld Museum and the Philippine Heritage Center in NAST Phl 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. Afterwards, 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, the National Scientist 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.
In addition, his group pioneered research on the possible effects of ozone depletion in the atmosphere on the growth, development and yield of rice.
His 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 rice plant.
For his achievements, Vergara 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.
His colleagues however recalled that despite all his feats, he remained kind, humble and generous.
“While many recall Dr. Vergara’s lessons about the value of patience, the importance of education, knowledge and skills in science, and of seeing and keeping in mind the good, our family remember him as a good father,” his firstborn son Benito “Sunny” Vergara Jr. said in his eulogy.
“For the past few days, we have been hearing a lot about how my father was a man of many accomplishments, an icon, and an extraordinary man. And I, too, thought that he was an extraordinary man,” Sunny continued. “He taught me how to love, he taught me how to have confidence in myself, he taught me how to be a father to my daughter, and he taught me how to be a good husband to my wife.”
Even after retiring, Vergara continued to serve tirelessly inside and outside of his work in science. He served the church, started scholarships, mentored aspiring scientists, among others. He received numerous awards, not only for his outstanding scientific achievements, but also for being a good man. One of these was as “Outstanding Citizen of Los Baños” given in 2004.
Until his last days, his love for the land remained, primarily evident in his beautiful and bountiful gardens. As written by UP Mass Communications Professor Dr. Clarissa C. David in a feature article on Vergara published in the International Journal of Philippine Science and Technology in April 2015, he was truly “a man at home among the plants and leaves and flowers that he loves.”
Dr. Benito S. 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.
“We must tell ourselves that he is not gone,” Sunny said in his eulogy. “He lives in the lives of the many students that he mentored, he lives as he has touched the lives of the people that he helped, he lives in the dreams of scholars and young scientists that he inspired and will continue to inspire, and he will always live in our hearts.”
Academician Padolina fittingly summed it up in his eulogy, “His life is truly a life lived well.”
National Scientist Dr. Benito S. Vergara was interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.
National Scientist Benito S. Vergara’s burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City. Dr. Vergara died last October 24, 2015 at the age of 81.
A vigil guard hands over the Philippine Flag to Lina Manalo-Vergara, wife of Dr. Vergara.
Department of Science and Technology Secretary Mario G. Montejo comforts the bereaved wife of Dr. Vergara.
National Academy of Science and Technology President Academician William Padolina, a close family friend of the Vergaras, offers a prayer to the late National Scientist by playing a doxology with his violin.