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Arsenio Ella

Finding the perfect balance

Forester Arsenio Ella was awarded as an Outstanding Filipino under the Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development category for his contributions in developing scientific and sustainable techniques in resin-tapping, that have not only prolonged the tree's life, but also helped create livelihood for indigenous communities all over the country. He has been with the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI), Los Banos, Laguna since the 1970s. He was recognized for his efforts in taking care of the environment, while finding practical solutions to the needs of communities. 

QUESTION: Where did you grow up?

ANSWER: I grew up in Bicol, specifically in Daet, Camarines Norte. We are called 'mestizongbikol', because we speak bicolano dialect na may halong Tagalog.

QUESTION: What motivated you to take this path, becoming a scientist? (Did you stumble into it quite by accident or was it the fulfilling-a-childhood dream kind of thing)

ANSWER: Right after graduation I was recruited by my boss, then landlord, to join FPRDI, formerly FPRD Commission. Before that, I was hesitant to join FPRDI because I wanted to be in the DENR in our province. But in 1973,the Bureau of Forest Development was under reorganization, so they cannot hire new foresters.

QUESTION: Why forestry?

ANSWER: In our senior year in high school, we had a career guidance course orientation conducted by our then district forester now called CENRO. During that time, nobody took forestry in our province. According to him, forestry is a sure job, you do not have to compete in other profession just to be in, either government or private. I finished my BS degree, majoring in Forest Research Management in CF in 1973. I started to love forestry when I took Dendrology classes. This is when I discovered my fondness for wood science and wood identification. Then the rest is history.

QUESTION: What do you as a scientist?

 ANSWER: In 1974, my first year in FPRDI, I was a Research Assistant under the Particle Board RD Project. My classmates were teasing me because, malayo sa aking specialization. It is easy to learn since we took courses in forest utilization. My work involves manufacturing of particle boards, lawanit/panels

Then in 1976, to be able to have a technical position, I was recruited by Commisioner Tamola in his office as executive assistant, in charge of project monitoring, especially progress of R&D projects. Then they needed a personnel in the Non-timber Forest Products, where I'm in wood anatomy, wood science.

I trained in Indonesia for 10 months, studying forest biology and forest ecology, then upon my return I took MS major in wood science, wood anatomy. I was engaged in wood anatomy research, wood identification and wood quality.

After that, and up until now, I'm involved in the harvesting and utilization of non-wood forest products such as resin, gums, latex, fibers, ratan.

Growing up in Bicol, I'm naturally fond of Pili. While majority of farmers utilized it for the nuts (delicacies), its resin, called manila copal is underutilized. And maybe that is why I continued  working on Pilispecies. It was then that we conducted and introduced the commercial resin tapping of Pili in Bicol. We have more than 10 species of Pili (or internationally known as Canarium), here in the country.

QUESTION: What is your favorite aspect of being a scientist?

ANSWER: As a researcher or scientist, God has instilled to me a deep sense of love to indigenous people. The experiences i have shared with them is invaluable.

We had a project in ComVal and I stayed there for two months. Basically I eat with, live with them. There's something in you na kapag nagtagal ka sa ganung lugar ayaw mo nang umalis. Na-adopt ka, napapamahal na sa'yo.

Then this one time in Cagayan Valley, I was dared to walk from early morning up to 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Twenty kilometer walk just to get there. My director got mad at me because I'm risking my life there, but for me, although I'm not young anymore, there is the challenge and I enjoy it. So when asked, why I'm still doing doing field works given my age (63 yo), all I can say is I love it and I'm enjoying it.

 QUESTION: Apart from science stuff, what do you like to do?

ANSWER: Hot bath. Every morning, hotbath!

Living in Los Banos, we were gifted with lots of hot springs.  So every day at 4AM, I go to the town bath and enjoy water therapy. It helps me normalize health issues such as fatty liver, uric acid and so on and so forth.

 QUESTION: If given the chance, how will you motivate our younger generation to go into science?

ANSWER: Unlike before, and largely because of techno transfer activities, people are now adapting, especially farmer and IPs have come to appreciate the value of science.

For young people, I do not advise them to go into forestry. First, let's face the reality, wala nang kahoy. Those in mountain areas are reforested na lang. We are now relying in the  Industrial Tree Plantation Species, wala na yung mga natural stand ng kahoy natin, like apitong, balaw etc.

Science in general, to entice more people to go into science, we have to demonstrate and let them feel the advantages of science, not only teaching and showing them. For example, to mitigate climate change, lectures are not enough. For me, my approach is, for example, pag pinutol mo yung kahoy, automatic madaling magbaha, so yung mga bata, magkakaroon sila ng knowledge na ganito pala yun.

We have to make them understand the underlying reasons for this phenomenon, mas ma-appreciate nila yung science.

And lastly, hard work, commitment and value of time. Be alert and be proactive in your communities and take part for the improvement of the whole

To learn more of Forester Ella's work and experiences, please visit us at science.ph

Interviewed by: Arjay Escondo