National Scientist Dr. Angel C. Alcala died Wednesday early afternoon in a hospital here where he was confined the past three days. He was 93.
The information about his death, which went viral on Facebook by early afternoon, was confirmed by his youngest son, veterinarian Ely Alcala.
Alcala grew up in a fishing village in Cauayan town in Negros Occidental. The work of his father as a fisherman inspired him to finish his Biology course at Silliman University in 1951, magna cum laude. He left for Stanford University on a Fulbright scholarship in the late 50s where he earned his masteral and doctoral degrees in 1966. Afterwhich, he came back to Silliman to teach Biology.
In the 1970s, Alcala, an avid SCUBA diver, focused their research team’s efforts on the rehabilitation of coral reefs, establishing as well artificial coral reefs. In 1974, he established the Silliman University Marine Laboratory as a research facility, now called the Institute of Environmental & Marine Sciences.
By 1991, he was appointed as the ninth president of Silliman, but he had to cut it short after two years to join the Cabinet of President Fidel Ramos as DENR Secretary. At the time of his death, Alcala was vice-chairperson of the Silliman Board of Trustees.
Dr. Alcala was given in 1992 the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “pioneering scientific leadership in restoring and protecting coral reefs” in the Philippines; and the Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 1999.
He also served as chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education until 1999. He returned to the Silliman campus by the sea after that to continue his researches in the field.
He founded in 1999 the SU Angelo King Center for Research & Environmental Management, generating hundreds of peer-reviewed researches in marine biology, and completing hundreds more in collaboration with international experts around the globe.
In June 2014, President Noynoy Aquino conferred on Dr. Alcala the Order of National Scientists of the Philippines award in the field of Biological Sciences, the highest honors bestowed on Filipino scientists, for his research work on the ecology of amphibians and reptiles, marine biodiversity, and marine-protected areas.
Dr. Alcala had pioneered in the 70s the establishment of no-take marine sanctuaries, especially in Apo Island off the coast of the town of Dauin in Negros Oriental. The island-barangay eventually became the world’s model for community-based coastal resources management.
He had recommended leaving a quarter of any area as off limits to fishing activities to allow marine organisms and fish to spawn without human distractions. It had since been referred to as the 25 Percent Solution.
[Just last week, Dr. Alcala informed this reporter that the no-take reserve should be adjusted to 30 percent.]
Even in his retirement, Dr. Alcala continued to champion environmental causes that were close to his heart. He wasted no time calling up people he had worked with in the communities to remind them of the dangers of destroying the environment with too much modernization, and their responsibility to the environment.
Dr. Alcala, who was a prolific columnist and supporter of the Dumaguete MetroPost, had vehemently advised against a proposal by the Dumaguete government to establish a 174-hectare reclamation project which would destroy the environment. He was also against the setting up of a jetty port near the marine sanctuary in Apo Island.
Alcala is survived by his wife of 70 years, Naomi Lusoc-Alcala, and their children: Estrilda Cruz-am, Angelo, Moses, Emily Layos, Grace Gloria, and Ely, and their families. (Irma Faith Pal)