Response to an urgent need
Rice is crucial to the Philippines' political stability and national security. It is the country's staple food and many Filipinos depend on it for a living. However, increasing population, shrinking rice hectarage, and damage caused by natural calamities, as well as man-made problems beset the rice industry. Compounding these is a policy environment that is more favorable to traders and millers.
While relevant rice research and development (R&D) efforts were done before the 1980s to address problems besetting the rice industry, efforts were at best fragmented and, therefore, did not translate into sustained rice self-sufficiency. Funding support for rice R&D was also negligible primarily because of the country's dependence on the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). But with a global mandate, IRRI cannot respond to all the needs of any one country. It can better help solve the Philippines' rice problems if the country has a strong national rice R&D body that will localize and bring IRRI's technologies to the farms.
Meeting of the minds
In March 1985, within the confines of the University of the Philippines (UP), UP System President Edgardo J. Angara convened a committee to brainstorm on the establishment of a national rice research institute. Later called the Executive Committee, the group was composed of UP Los Baños (UPLB) Vice-Chancellor for Administration Domingo M. Lantican and Director of Research Ricardo M. Lantican; Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF) Domingo F. Panganiban; Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) Executive Director Ramon V. Valmayor; IRRI Director General M.S. Swaminathan; and NationalEconomic Development Authority (NEDA) Agriculture Staff Director Manuel de Leon.
As a result of the brainstorming, a technical interagency committee chaired by Dr. R.M. Lantican was formed to draft the proposal. The proposal was submitted in May 1985 to Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos through MAF Minister Salvador H. Escudero III.
Finally, on November 5, 1985, President Marcos signed Executive Order (EO) 1061 creating the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). It was subsequently amended by EO 60 signed by Pres. Corazon C. Aquino on November 7, 1986, strengthening PhilRice by increasing its membership to improve representations in the rice industry in its highest policymaking body, the Board of Trustees (BOT).
Laying the groundwork
Minister of Agriculture Ramon V. Mitra and UP System PresidentEdgardo J. Angara identified and recommended the members of the PhilRice BOT for appointment by President Aquino.
While a director has not yet been appointed, an Executing Committee chaired by UPLB College of Agriculture Dean Ruben L. Villareal laid the groundwork for PhilRice’s program plan and operations. In June 1987, PhilRice operations went full swing with the assumption to office of its first Executive Director, Dr. Santiago R. Obien. Dr. Obien brought with him his experience as president of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) and director of the Philippine Tobacco Research and Training Center (PTRTC). With Dr. Obien at the helm, the Executing Committee was dissolved and a PhilRice-UPLB Management Committee was created to select UPLB staff members to be seconded to PhilRice as program leaders. The Committee’s functions were gradually reduced as PhilRice got organized.
Finding a Home
PhilRice’s headquarters, originally located inside the UPLB Campus, could not meet the envisioned manpower and program expansion. Thus, upon the suggestion of Prof. Kenzo Hemmi, IRRI BOT chair, PhilRice sought infrastructure and technical assistance from the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Secretaries of Agriculture Ramon V. Mitra, Carlos G. Dominguez, and Senen C. Bacani strongly supported the idea. By virtue of a board resolution in March 1990, the Maligaya Rice Research and Training Center (MRRTC) in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, which was previously merged with PhilRice, officially became the Central Experiment Station (CES). Through a US$15.7 million JICA grant approved on December 21, 1989, PhilRice improved the station and equipped it with modern laboratory and training facilities.
Today, PhilRice is considered a model research agency, a center of excellence, and a world-class research institution.