I have never imagined writing poems seemingly inspired by disease. I, myself, was surprised that I wrote one last year (February 2019) at the height of the dengue and Dengvaxia controversy. I thought that would be the first and the last. But here I am again, and I tried to express my musings, doubts, apprehensions – all a mixture of thoughts and emotions – on the worldwide outbreak and confirmed local transmission of the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes the disease now more popularly referred to as COVID19. How I detest the way our health and other problems are being handled. How I wish leaders viewed things holistically – that health problems are intricately connected with population issues, education, environmental problems, governance, etc. People may be able to read and write and count but not everyone can see how things are connected.
Is this my way of de-stressing? Perhaps, it is. And so I am reprinting them together here.
At a minute past midnight tonight (15 March 2020, 00:01H), the lockdown of Metropolitan Manila – the Philippines’ most densely populated region – takes effect.
I am afraid, I am sad, I am angry.
Sick Poems – I
Finding poetry in a disease is like looking for a nugget of gold in one Smokey Mountain of revolting, rotting rubbish.
A poem is precious. It breathes us life. Even one about death brings hope of imagined heavens and dreads of eternal incomplete combustion, but dengue sucks dry its hapless victims.
Baby mossies are cheering, wriggling, today, detritus feeding . . . Tomorrow, the girls among them turning into little vampires blood feeding; and the boys will have for drinking plant juices like wines brewing. Rightly or not, the winged being receives much of the blame, poor thing!
The greater pain, the bigger burden, felt greatly by the downtrodden, however, lies not so much in the bitten nor the biter – always the villain.
When those whose tasks are meant to serve, serve not the ones who need, but only themselves When solicitors utter Hippocratic mantras Like gurus descended from Oriental Olympuses but in truth are Proud Marys burning with empty heads . . .
And when the multitudes blind and blinded, in Plato’s Cave chained, demented faithfully follow the falsehoods preached by the High Priests and Priestesses: I recall the scenarios of old tales told of Pied Pipers leading kids out of Hamelin’s fold to a treacherous realm of eternal repose.
And a nation’s bound to decompose.
Sick Poems – II
Could writing a poem inspired by a disease be or become a crime? How absurd is it to find inspiration out of a dreaded virus?
The emperor rudely wears indecent robes worse than the legendary one without clothes, more distorted than a crippled plastic ware deformed by immoral, pretentious heat.
Incoherent recitations of tongues, chants but not the solemn Gregorian Pretenses at smartness of the ignorant And all worshippers continue to be blind Defending their King as they the headless chess pieces are pawned, fiercely loyally they guard their golden calf, and all protesting Moseses, the King’s men painted with the yellow mark of wrath.
This nation’s bound to decompose – of mountains of unpaid and unpayable debts, of liars who have made lies the accepted truth of gospels preached that are none but rotten fruit of thieves and shameless robbers who lead of nation’s coffers they bleed of blind beggars who follow of multitudes numb with sorrow of misfortunes often told and retold And all our souls to the devil’s sold.
No Davids to rise and fight the Goliaths as told The candle in this dimly lit room refuses to turn cold The candle burns out soon, as history’s last page does unfold.
I have written this to put down my thoughts and feelings on my receipt of the 2020 UPLB Outstanding Teacher Award (OTA) in the Biological Sciences. I have presumed that because of the recognition, my readers, probably mostly my friends, would be like a supportive crowd in a theatre or hall. I actually consider opportunities to post an essay on my page for readers, like you, about one’s thoughts as well as feelings, particularly on personal achievements, as rather rare. In the millennial lingo, younger friends would say, “moment ko na ‘to.”
To receive an Oblation statuette for teaching is a great bonus because I was just doing what to me is what every teacher should do – facilitate learning. To receive an Oblation statuette along with the monetary reward is more than a dream come true, for I only wanted to teach. I have always wanted to teach. Hence, to receive awards for teaching, including that from my home college, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), last November, is really more than what I wanted. Pardon me for being redundant, repetitive. To me, I was just doing what I enjoy doing, and what is expected of a teacher.
Mine is perhaps one of the few unique situations in the University, having gone through all sectors – as an administrative staff – a Research Aide at the then Department of Life Sciences, hired even before I finished my BSA major in Entomology, to being REPS for more than 20 years, and as a full time member of the Faculty for the last 15 years; and being affiliated with three other colleges/schools in UPLB aside from CAS and one in Diliman. In between those, a few years have also been spent as a middle-level administrator, particularly as Director of the UPLB Museum of Natural History from 2006-2015. Indeed, the road I traversed and still am traversing, was and is one that has been challenging, oftentimes rough and winding.
The first opportunity to teach came to me when as a Research Assistant III (later retitled University Research Associate I) in the UPLB MNH Entomological Museum, I was requested to handle two laboratory sections of Crop Protection 1 at the then Department of Entomology (at the then College of Agriculture), because the teacher who was assigned to teach the two sections had an unexpected illness. That was in 1992. The next chance was in 2003 when I was already a researcher under a University Extension Specialist III item, still at the MNH, when colleagues at the UPLB Institute of Biological Sciences (IBS, under the College of Arts and Sciences) invited me to team teach an RGEP course, NASC 5 (Environmental Biology). To cut short the story, I became a full-time faculty in 2005 at the Department of Forest Biological Sciences (or FBS, under the College of Forestry and Natural Resources) handling courses in Forest Entomology, Forest Ecology etc. but still handling NASC 5. Eventually I transferred to IBS in 2008. And in the IBS, I stayed. IBS gave me the home I need, the chance to teach courses and talk about subject matters I love – evolutionary biology, ecology, systematics, biogeography, conservation biology while still allowing me to participate in teaching-learning activities at the FBS, Entomology Department, School of Environmental Science and Management, and at the Institute of Biology in UP Diliman. Thank you IBS and CAS!
Inspirations came, have come, and are still coming from several people. The late Professor Leo C. Rimando, a systematist, an entomologist and acarologist, the founder of the BS Biology Program in UPLB, was the teacher of best teachers, an artist and a scientist, an educator par excellence. To this day, his voice still reverberates in my mind and among his many memorable words, “Think of every lecture as your last, the greatest performance of your life.” And “Imagine the lecture hall or laboratory room as a theater stage, and you, the teacher, the lead actor, the visual aids, the chalkboard are just the props, and your audience, your students, should be able to get the message through your delivery.” Aside from Professor Rimando, I was also lucky to have been a student of OTAs like my adviser Dr. Venus J. Calilung, in my basic biology and genetics courses, Prof. Ivan Marcelo A. Duka, Dr. Merlyn S. Mendioro, Dr. Adelina A. Barrion, in Mathematics and Statistics by Prof. Rolando G. Panopio, in Chemistry by Dr. Ma. Cristina D. Padolina and in my chosen field, by those who we call the masters – Dr. Leonila Corpuz-Raros, again Dr. Calilung, Dr. Clare R. Baltazar, Dr. Victor P. Gapud, Dr. Benito C. Tan, et al. They all collectively gave me the image of the teacher that I wanted to be.
On the other side of all these, my students and advisees, as well as my colleagues (who also include OTAs), provided the much needed feedback. Like many UP faculty, I didn’t have formal courses in education. When asked by a colleague what my teaching philosophy was, I couldn’t answer right away. In my mind and in my heart, I’m just a teacher who enjoys teaching and learning, that’s why I also want my students to enjoy while learning. All that I had was what I learned in Speech and the rest of the basic communication arts – the rules and principles that govern – the flow of knowledge and information. – Source-Message-Channel-Audience. I was sort of ‘playing the piano by ear.’ And I am so glad that I made ‘good music,’ so to speak. Teaching is really never a one-way process – I learned a lot from my students and I am happy that they too learned from me.
In many instances, my students would comment that there were times they thought I was just telling a story or stories about my nature treks, adventures in the field, anecdotes in the lab and so on, or what I read somewhere or published in this or that journal. Animated – that’s what they would say, and in retrospect, I would probably agree. Teaching was one of my ways of sharing the outputs of my research and I feel lucky that my field of study involves not only laboratory and museum work but also, and more importantly, fieldwork. Research, indeed, strengthens instruction as I have personally experienced and with it cultivates the ability to communicate at all levels – from peers through publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals, to one’s students through instruction, and to the wider community through extension, science-based advocacy and information service and genuinely concerned public service. In another venue, I wrote: “I have always viewed University teaching as inseparable and inextricably connected with research. One always supports and fortifies the other and both are functionally linked with public service.”
Along this journey, I could not have survived and been able to hold on without people whose help made every step easier. Friends, colleagues, supportive superiors, cooperative staff, highly-skilled technicians, fellow field biologists, even guides and porters, as well as inspired and inspiring students – they all made all the ascents and descents, bearable, memorable, and enjoyable.
Above all, UP gave me and has always given all of us, what other teachers and students could not enjoy. We all cherish, we all treasure, we all savor that singular icon that allows us to think freely, to speak our minds out, to teach the way we want to each within the bounds of honor and excellence, to reach for the heights of abilities, and to dig toward the deepest, even the unfathomed, depths of our hearts – academic freedom. For that, I will be forever thankful to UP.
Lastly, teachers, including us in UP do not become rich by teaching. Hence, the support, understanding and most of all, the love that my wife, Dr. Merdelyn Caasi-Lit, and our children, Catherine, Jose Mari, and Fernando, give me have made possible my continuous wallowing into the dangerous waters of teaching biology, of advocating intellectual environmentalism, of tickling students’ minds to think more deeply, compassionately, and holistically about life, nature, people, and society, of doing science while communing with nature and getting high with the joys of discovery, and occasionally, of writing bits of self-taught poetry. This award is also theirs, our family’s.
Again, thank you very much UPLB, thank you everyone.
This post is dedicated to my present, future & former students in BIO 140 (Evolutionary Biology) in UPLB and has been posted on my fb page about a year ago or earlier.
A student asked me:
“Is the evolution of resistance to antibiotic drugs and pesticides artificial selection?” The student added that a senior biologist he/she talked with reasoned that: “because humans invented drugs and pesticides and released them to the environment and, therefore, are not natural, the development of resistance to them qualifies as part of artificial selection.”
The main difference between natural and artificial selection is that, in natural selection, it is nature or the environment that “blindly” (as against consciously, because nature has no consciousness) selects from among choices or variants – products of genetic processes; whereas in artificial selection, humans “consciously” or deliberately chooses organisms (plants, animals, etc.) which possess desirable (or beneficial, to humans, of course) traits. In the latest edition of the book “Evolution” (Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, 2017), natural selection is defined as: “The differential survival and/or reproduction of classes of entities” (i.e., alleles, genotypes (or their subsets), populations, species) “that differ in one or more characteristics.” The difference in survival and/or reproduction is “not due to chance” and has “the potential consequence of altering the proportions of the different entities” (~genotypic/gene frequencies). Such differences are usually inherited. On the other hand, artificial selection is defined as: “Selection by humans of a deliberately chosen trait or combination of traits in a (usualy captive) population; differing from natural selection in that the criterion for survival and reproduction is the trait chosen, rather than fitness as determined by the entire genotype.” (Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, ibid).
In the development of resistance to antibiotics among pathogenic microorganisms, or to pesticides among insect pests, plant pathogens and weeds, humans do not deliberately or “consciously” choose a trait or combination of traits, and the populations of organisms that develop resistance are definitely not captive. The same is true for the inevitable development of resistance to pest-protected GM crops, the changes in the behavior and other traits of native species as challenged by alien invasive species, and the various adaptations of organisms to all forms of pollution (that are all products of human activities). In all these cases, it is still nature that selects and one may surmise, a way through which “Nature fights back.” Possible exceptions to natural selection in a human-made environment maybe resistance to antibiotics or pesticides that had been induced in the laboratory for experimental purposes (but for which biosafety regulations have set safeguards and requires destruction of all experimental material after the conduct of studies). On the other hand, the deliberate moves toward insect resistance management or IRM with the objective of delaying the development of resistance to Bt crops may be tantamount to humans assisting nature in order to prolong the benefits to farmers that this technology provides.
No. The evolution of resistance to antibiotic drugs and pesticides does not constitute artificial selection. It is still natural selection.
As contestants in pageants say: “Thank you for that wonderful question . . .” 🙂🙂🙂
Today is the 9th day of what is the 11th but was originally the 9th month in the ancient Roman Calendar. The name November comes from the Latin “nove” meaning nine. Today also happens to be the day for the “siyaman” (Tagalog for the novena or 9-day prayers for the departed, a Filipino Catholic tradition) for the late Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio, who we had fondly called “Joy” who passed away five minutes before the midnight of last 01 November, a day celebrated as a holiday in the Philippines – All Saints’ Day. On the request of friends and colleagues, I am posting here the tribute that I delivered last Wednesday, 07 November, on behalf of the Pest Management Council of the Philippines as well as the Philippine Association of Entomologists. It is in Tagalog (Filipino) and I hope to update this soon with an accompanying English Translation for the sake of Joy’s friends and colleagues from abroad.
PARANGAL KAY JOY (EUSEBIO)
Dr. Reynaldo V. Ebora, Executive Director of PCAARRD; Dr. Feliciano B. and Mrs. Delia Calora, BSU President Calora, Dr. Villar, Mr. Barcelona, friends here in PCAARRD including Mam Edna, Tin, Kim et al.; fellow members of PAE, colleagues in the PMCP and its affiliated societies: Good morning!
Please allow me to read this short Tribute to Joy in Filipino as I speak before you today on behalf of the Pest Management Council of the Philippines as its current President as well as on behalf of the Philippine Association of Entomologists as its current Vice-President. [Our PAE President is currently on official trip attending a workshop in Tagaytay.]
Sa mga anak at mga apo, mga kapatid at sa buong angkan ng mga Eusebio lalo na dito sa Los Baños, mga kapita-pitagang panauhin, mga pinuno at kagawad ng PCAARRD-DOST, mga kaibigan at kasamahan sa serbisyo sa gobyerno at sa Unibersidad, Magandang umaga po!
Sa ngalan po ng mga kasapi at ng pamunuan ng Pest Management Council of the Philippines o PMCP, ganundin sa ngalan ng aming pangulo, mga kasama ko rin sa pamunuan at lahat ng kapwa ko kasapi sa Philipping Association of Entomologists, Inc. o PAE, hayaan po ninyong basahin at ipahayag ko ang pinag-isang parangal naming ito para kay Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio o mas kilala natin sa palayaw na Joy.
Naging isang matapat at masipag na kasapi ng PAE si Doc Joy na laging maaasahan sa mga gawaing pangkomite at pang-organisasyon. Naging Pangulo s’ya ng PAE sa unang pagkakataon noong 2003-2004. Kahit alam nating lahat kung gaano s’ya ka-busy o abala sa pagiging Director ng Crops Research Division ng PCAARRD, palagi may bahagi sa kanyang puso, isip, at gawa ang PAE. Isang halimbawa ay noong 2010 na kinailangan kong magbitiw sa pagka-Bise-Presidente dahil sa hindi inaasahang pagkabulag ng aking kanang mata at mga kaugnay nitong pangyayari, buong-puso niyang tinanggap ang aking naiwang tungkulin kung kaya’t muli siyang naging Pangulo ng PAE noong 2011-2012. Bago pa siya naging Pangulo nang dalawang beses ay aktibo na rin siya sa iba’t ibang posisyon, tungkulin at mga gawaing pangkomite at sa Executive Board. Noong 2008, bilang pagkilala sa kanyang natatangi at kapuri-puring mga ginawa bilang entomologist lalo na sa mga pag-aaral n’ya sa host plant resistance ng broad mite na isang invasive pest species na umaatake sa patatas, talong, atbp. at sa kanyang dedikasyon bilang research administrator lalo na sa PCAARRD-CRD, ginawaran s’ya ng PAE ng LB Uichanco Award sa kategorya ng non-academic achievements. Ang kategoryang ito ay tinatawag na ngayon bilang Feliciano B. Calora Award for Outstanding Entomologist. Noong 2013-2014, naging Pangulo din sya ng Pest Management Council of the Philippines, ang Pambansa at pangunahing sanggunian sa mga isyu ng siyentipikong pananaliksik, pagkontrol at pamamahala ng mga peste, sakit, at mapanirang damo sa agrikultura at pamayanan. The fifth woman to become President of that prestigious national professional organization. Upang ilarawan ang kanyang pananaw sa ugnayan ng siyensya at mga siyentista ng Entomology at ng Pest Management sa pangkalahatang layunin ng pag-unlad ng ating bayan at kagalingan ng mga mamamayan, lalo na ng mga magsasaka, hayaan ninyong basahin ko ang bahagi ng kanyang Opening Remarks noong 2014 PMCP Conference: “This year’s conference theme “Harnessing Plant Science, Biotechnology, and Organic Approaches for Effective Pest Management” demands the commitment from the scientific community to develop and adopt different approaches in combatting pest problems due to climate change . . . The PMCP Conference is very important for the crop protection sector because it is an opportune time to update and expand our knowledge and horizons and share experiences in public and private institutions, recognizing outstanding institutions and outstanding members and their accomplishments . . .” At kahit natapos na ang kanyang mga termino bilang pinuno sa PAE at PMCP, hindi roon natapos ang kanyang suporta at pakikilahok sa mga gawaing pang-organisasyon. Ang kanyang mga payo at tulong sa mga sumunod na pinuno sa maraming aspeto ay naging mahalagang ambag sa patuloy na magandang pagsulong ng PAE at PMCP.
Kagabi narinig ko ang mga pahayag ng kanyang mga kapatid, mga anak, mga pinsan at iba pang kaanak. Hanga ako kung paano nya nagampanan nang buong-husay ang pagiging Direktor ng isa sa mga lalong mahalagang sangay ng PCAARRD, kawani sa gobyerno at serbisyo sibil, kasama naming sa siyensiya ng entomolohiya at agrikultura, pinuno at aktibong kasapi ng PAE at PMCP, kasabay ng pagiging mabuting ina at asawa, anak, pinsan, kapatid, kamag-anak, kaibigan. Noong nakaraang Mayo sa Iloilo kasama siya sa aming pinarangalan bilang Past PMCP President. Sa naturang programa, nabanggit ko sa aking closing remarks at maging sa aking talumpati ng pagtanggap sa pagiging kasalukuyang Pangulo ng PMCP, na lahat silang mga naging PMCP Presidents, sa wikang Ingles – “had worn shoes that are too big, too great to fill.” Siguro hindi lang “shoes” o sapatos ang mga isinuot ni Doc Joy sa kanyang paggampan sa maraming naging papel nya sa buhay. Siguro, may sombrero, may kwintas, scarf at marami pang iba, pero wag nating kakalimutan, isinuot nya ang lahat ng iyon ng may “poise” at “style” – alam nating lahat na elegante at fashionista si Doc Joy.
Sa bandang ito ng aking pahayag, hayaan po ninyong magbanggit din ako ng kaunti tungkol sa aming pagkakaibigan. Kumare ko po si Doc Joy. Ninang po siya ng aming bunsong anak ni Dr. Merdelyn C. Lit. Sa bawat tagumpay ng aming mga anak, hindi lang ng kanyang inaanak, masaya s’yang nakikibahagi sa aming kaligayahan, at may minsan ay may halo pang biro, na ‘mana sa ninang’ sabay “apir” with her matching signature big smile.
Noong una ay hindi naman kami talaga close, pero nitong mga nakaraang taong lalo na sa pagtingkad ng naging problema natin sa cocolisap, naging malaking encouragement at hindi matatawarang suporta ang kanyang mga payo, puna at mga mungkahi sa pagsulong ng mga pananaliksik at pagsusuri para sa kagyat at pangmatagalang solusyon sa problema ng mga magniniyog. Siguro alam ng marami sa inyo kung gaano kadalang ang suporta sa mga research projects para sa mga tulad kong taxonomist. Nagkakasya na ang mga guro namin sa mumunting grasya. Subalit sa mga tips nya at sa tulong ng tambalan niya at ng ating butihing Executive Director na si Dr. Rey Ebora, nagkaroon ako sa kauna-unahang pagkakataon sa mahigit 30ng taon ko sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas ng isang PCAARRD-funded project. Kasama sa mga accomplishment ng naturang project, may mga nadiskubre kaming ilang bagong uri o species ng mga scale insects. Bilang pagkilala sa kanyang suporta hindi lamang sa akin kundi kabuuan ng Philippine Entomology at Agricultura, isa sa mga bagong species ay ipapangalan namin sa kanya. Sorpresa sana ito, kaya nga lang, nakakalungkot hindi na nya iyon mababasa o makikita. Ganunpaman, magsisilbing permanenteng tatak at pagkilala iyon ng kanyang mahalagang suporta at kontribusyon bilang isang entomologist at science administrator para sa siyensya ng entomology, pest management at agriculture.
Sa panghuli, salamat Mareng Joy sa maraming likes at hearts sa aking mga post sa fb, lalo na ng malaman mong ako pala’y hindi lang scientific papers ang sinusulat kundi pati mga tula. Para sa ‘yo Mareng Joy, pakinggan po ninyo itong aking munting nakayanang tulang dalit*:
Her life was an outstanding performance that deserves no less than a standing ovation. Isang kahanga-hangang tao, babae, ina, kapatid, mabait na boss, leader, at marami pang iba, ang ating kaibigan – Dr. Jocelyn “Joy” Eusebio Eusebio. Palakpakan po natin.
Maraming salamat po.
– Jun Lit
*dalit – a style of poetry that flourished early in the Tagalog Region of the Philippines, where each stanza is composed of four rhyming lines, each line with eight syllables.
Earlier today, I watched Joseph Morong’s Fact or Fake episode on “Nabukbok na Bigas: Kakainin mo ba?” (https://www.facebook.com/gmanews/videos/2215377228787759/). It was very good that my friend and colleague Dr. Pio A. Javier, another entomologist, was interviewed there. My note on the rice weevil, Sitophilus oryzae (Linnaeus), was based mainly on what has circulated in the news and social media. Dr. Javier has clarified and reported what he collected, observed and identified: three other beetles, which being small grain consumers, are within the broad vernacular term “bukbók.” They are: (1) the sawtoothed grain beetle, Oryzaephilus surinamensis (Linnaeus); (2) flat grain beetle, Cryptolestes sp.; and (3) the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum (Herbst).
As one of the living experts on stored product pests in the Philippines, Dr. Javier’s identification of the insects is the most reliable, so far, in this ongoing rice problem. After all, among the living stored product entomologists, he has the longest years of experience. Also, he was a student of one of our esteemed professors in the old Department of Entomology (now part of the Institute of Weed Science, Entomology and Plant Pathology, in UPLB), none other than the late Dr. Belen Morallo-Rejesus, whose book on postharvest and stored products remain as the bible for beginning stored product entomologists.
Despite the taxonomic differences from what I had earlier posted, pest management technologies are in place for the control (or management) of stored grains, mainly through fumigation using phosphine. In relation to this, another entomologist, my friend and classmate, Chief Miriam Amoranto Acda of PhilMech, has an upcoming paper in the scientific journal The Philippine Entomologist on the development of resistance to phosphine among stored product insect pests in the Philippines.
Our predecessors like Dr. Rejesus prepared the paths for us, and we, the present corps of entomologists, albeit dwindling, remain steadfast in our commitment to serve the Filipino farmers and consumers.
And the conclusions remain the same: the present problems we have are beyond what we, in Entomology and Pest Management, can prescribe. To reiterate: “Nobody deserves to eat food that is considered low quality, if not altogether rotten; and all the more, when that food is staple and has become quite costly. Filipinos deserve much better, or rather, the best.”
After the cocolisap (Aspidiotus rigidus Reyne) outbreak a few years ago, another insect species now captures the limelight. Initially, a few netizens were quick in putting the blame on government entomologists, understandably so, as the problem centers on an insect, a beetle – a weevil or snout beetle to be exact. In the midst of multi-media releases and posts from all corners, all focusing the spotlight on the lowly 2-mm long “culprit”, the picture of a top-ranking government official, no less than the Secretary of Agriculture himself, demonstrating how to cook rice infested with rice weevil (https://www.facebook.com/MindaKnow2017/videos/421346601721949/) and then showing the public that he can, and he did, eat them, presents mixed feelings and thoughts to me. Maybe the Honorable Secretary did achieve in pointing out what he wanted to – that it is safe to eat weevil-infested rice. What was or were missed were the main points that sparked and continue to kindle the public outrage. With all due respect to the DA Secretary, I am putting into writing my thoughts – as an entomologist, and as an ordinary rice-eating Filipino.
Bukbók or Rice Weevil, Sitophilus oryzae – The Star of the Moment
Unlike most other insect pests, grain or stored product weevils, collectively called bukbók in the Tagalog and other Philippine languages, have been with humans in Southeast Asia since time immemorial. In general, these insects belong to any of the families under the taxonomic superfamily of weevils or snout beetles (the Curculionoidea) (All beetles are classified under the insect order Coleoptera). However, the vernacular term as a general or collective name also includes a few species that belong to the subfamily of bean weevils (Bruchinae of the leaf beetle family (the Chrysomelidae, which is under superfamily Chrysomeloidea). My mentioning of these group names is intended to emphasize the diversity of the “bukbóks” as a large group and as a small group of species allied to that infesting our staple food – rice.
The Rice Weevil (Bukbók ng Bigas), is known to science as Sitophilus oryzae (Linnaeus). [see picture here – above – that I grabbed from Wikipedia: by Olaf Leillinger – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1550147%5D. Its closest relative in the Philippines is the corn weevil (Bukbók ng Mais), Sitophilus zeamais (Motschulky). The corn weevil is also known to occasionally attack rice and the two differ in at least seven minute characteristics, that are often difficult to discern by unfamiliar eyes. The adult rice weevils have well-developed hindwings beneath their hardened forewing and, hence, can fly. Impressively, they can live for up to two years and during its relatively long life, a mother rice weevil can lay 2-6 eggs each day, with a cumulative record (in the laboratory) of up to 300 per female. An egg is deposited singly in each rice grain within a hole drawn by the mother rice weevil using its strong mandibles. After an egg is deposited, the mother weevil plugs the hole with substances secreted from her ovipositor. The grub (C-shaped larva) develops within the grain, hollowing it out while feeding. When full-grown, the grub proceeds to the resting stage (pupa) within the rice grain. The pupal stage lasts for 4-6 days and a new adult weevil emerges, coming out of the grain within 2–4 days. Male rice weevils produce an aggregation pheromone that attracts both males and females to come closer together. The female, on the other hand, produces its sex pheromone solely to attract male weevils.
Entomologists know and have shown the solution to the rice weevil problem
The brief account in the previous section summarizes that we know the problem as far as the biological-ecological side is concerned. We have pinpointed which among the species should be the target. Entomologists have studied how the species lives and how it damages our grains. Far above these basic knowledge, pest management entomologists have recommended control strategies, from having a well dried rice after harvesting and before storage, to eliminating sources of infestation, and treating stored rice grains in every shipment and with a chemical (e.g. phosphine) that is both effective against the stored pests of rice grains and safe to humans when applied properly. In this case, Science, as physically embodied by scientists who deal with basic studies of insects (entomologists) and entomologists who have searched for solutions to this and other pest problems (pest management scientists), both in government and private sectors, has again shown that it has not been reneged on nor negligent of its responsibilities to the consuming public.
The Bukbók Problem – Beyond Science
The solution, fumigation, is available, fairly simple, and relatively economical, considering the economic costs entailed by losses due to infestation by the rice weevil and other stored product pests. Safeguarding farm produce from pests, from harvest to warehouse storage, and strict quality control of grain shipments from abroad are routine measures. The problem, therefore, although highlighted by the infestation by an insect pest species, is beyond entomology, and far above, what pest management scientists can prescribe. Only good governance, can prevent immense problems such as the present rice shortage and the infestations of our rice grains. In relation to this, the eminent Dr. Emil Q. Javier has outlined five complementary strategies for the future of our rice sector (https://business.mb.com.ph/2018/07/28/wanted-a-new-rice-industry-road-map-after-lifting-of-quantitative-restrictions/).
Lastly, while I, like most Filipino entomologists, agree that insects are generally (or mostly) edible, and that entomophagy (consuming insects for food) is something to explore not only for the thrill (in the Philippines mainly, because many other Southeast Asians have insects in their diet) but also for the nutritional quality, I believe that we deserve rice with quality much, much better and more pleasant than bukbók-“enriched”. Nobody deserves to eat food that is considered low quality, if not altogether rotten; and all the more, when that food is staple and has become quite costly. Filipinos deserve much better, or rather, the best.
I know, because I am an entomologist. I am a scientist. I am Filipino.
My family and friends have been urging me for a long time to write blogs and other posts where I can share my views, poems and other writings. I have not heeded those proddings. I thought I’m too old for that/this stuff. or that it’s too late.
As days, years passed, the realization that I can still help or do something using my pen (or my laptop keyboard, for that matter), despite increasing physical limitations (one-eye blind, slower movements, etc.), has become both an unrelenting pressure as well as a refreshing inspiration, to, yes, write and publish them here.
My family name is Lit, possibly of Malayo-Polynesian linguistic origin. At the same time, it is the past tense or past participle of “to light”. Therefore, you can either see my thoughts as either brightly or dimly Lit. “Lit” is also used by many writers as short of “Literature” – quite a coincidence for my great interest in writing poems and stories, despite the fact that my formal training is in science, specifically entomology, the study of insects and its relatives and not in creative writing.
Back in college, some of my friends/classmates, have cracked a joke on me, substituting my surname for the few times that I came late for an org meeting, saying “Oy Lit ka ngayon!” [instead of “Hey you’re late this time!]. Recalling that moment, and negating my earlier thoughts that I’m too old for this kind of stuff, gave me the idea for starting this personal writing journey – because it’s “Better LIT Than Never!”