Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in a nutshell

2015 turned out to be quite a unique year. Here are some of the highlights that made the year interesting for me...

Bill Gates visits IRRI. It was a mostly a surprise to many of us at IRRI headquarters. I learned about his visit when my cousins started bugging me, asking for confirmation. Since I wasn't part of the very small group of people who he conversed with, I didn't know that he was already touring the facilities. In short, he was there but I didn't meet him.

Charlie Hebdo shooting. Staff at this French satirical magazine were gunned down by three people, who eventually were killed while fighting authorities. The killings have produced such a clamor since the people were allegedly killed by Islamic extremists who were offended by the satirical images the magazine publishes. It, indeed, raises the question about press freedom. It also reminds us that the freedom of expression that we have a right to has an equivalent responsibility. It is our responsibility to make sure that nobody threatens that freedom to choose to say what we want to say; and the freedom to choose what not to say, if we deem them inappropriate. What a way to herald 2015, right?!?

The Pope visits the Philippines. This is certainly a highlight for 2015. I won't be going to Manila to attend a Mass he was celebrating, though. Too many people. I'd rather watch the television coverage so I could see him close up. I do know, however, that being in the presence of a Pope is still different from seeing him on the telly.

The Philippines' bravest die in battle. In the continuous flight to defend the country, 44 brave Filipinos died in combat. It naturally happens when people on both sides have guns, yes, but media releases showed that the people who killed these members of the SAF had no respect for the dead at all. What kind of individuals would mutilate bodies of dead enemies? Wait... right... they're nothing short of the Orcs of Mordor.

Space explorers sign up for a one-way trip to Mars. Looks like there are people crazy enough and without anyone to go home to to decide that it's worth the risk to fly out to Mars and never return to Earth. Sounds so much like the movie "Interstellar"... except that there wouldn't be any rescue mission to pick up the people who land in Mars. But wait! NASA says there's water in Mars (how they learned that through the data coming from the probe, I don't know) and so there's a chance that people can survive there! If only the atmosphere had oxygen and there are plants...

A Filipina on death row in Indonesia receives a stay on her execution at the 11th hour. Miracles do happen! I was asking a schoolmate who now practises law what will happen to this Filipina? Is she free to go or is she still imprisoned while waiting further instructions? I'm sure that the media coverage will keep her in the loop though her story might be buried when more sensational news play out in the future.

A male northern white rhino receives better security than most humans because it's the last known one in the world. I bumped into an article about this lucky rhino at some point in the year. I admire the dedication of the game keepers who make sure that this rhino remains safe and untouchable to poachers who are only interested in trophies and in ivory. 

Same-sex marriage is made legal in the United States of America. I am up for basic human rights. And I knew that this was forthcoming. But that doesn't mean I support it. I come from the more traditional view that a family is built by a man and a woman who decided and vowed to live together (and bring forth children, if they are so blessed). Legalising same-sex marriage may have been a giant step forward in terms of equal rights for people with all possible orientations, but it is still not approved by the Church I belong to. Before anyone bashes my line of thinking, though, let me put it this way: people who support such marriages are free to say their piece. I don't see why I can't express my disagreement. 

Iran nuclear weapons deal. Looks like world peace will become a reality with this development. I hope that this is something that develops on the long term and will last longer than the current governments that closed the deal. Interestingly, I just finished reading Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears", in which a peace accord was also finalised, leading (theoretically) to improved solidarity among nations. Fiction (excluding the rest of the thriller novel, of course) imitating real life?

A rocket ship finally reached Pluto. The first images released by NASA showed a silhouette on Pluto that looks like the profile of Snoopy. Sorry, no matter how I look at it, I'm not convinced that it's Pluto's (the dog) silhouette I see. But aside from that, another interesting photograph featured Pluto's satellite... It has a crater that makes it look like a Death Star (and I am NOT exaggerating).

The Presidential campaigns have begun. The first campaign radio ad I heard is Ping Lacson's. It is all about how the Philippine National Police's stellar performance during his time as its chief. "Bawal ang kotong," it says. But bribery is never really allowed, no matter who's in charge, isn't it? So I don't get the point of this ad. Then there are the testimonies from people who were kidnap victims rescued through Ping Lacson's leadership... and one from someone whose life made a 180-degree turn away from drugs because he was caught during Ping Lacson's campaign against drugs. One question though: Is Ping really running? Or are his supporters trying to convince him to run for President? I only know of Vice President Jejomar Binay's and Secretary Mar Roxas' intentions to run for office, as of August 2015. And then there's Grace Poe and Miriam Santiago getting into the mix. I don't know of their plans and platforms yet since nobody's really started with campaigns. The presidential elections next year will prove to be a colourful one. Equally interesting are the candidates for Vice-President: Bongbong Marcos and Leni Robredo seem to be the most noticeable candidates. We'll see how these go.

In the US, on the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the biggest names in the campaign trail for the Presidency (at least in international news bits that reach me). If these two go head-to-head, I am betting that Hillary will win. Donald Trump's statements may be powerful but these are blatantly American-biased and are very undiplomatic... characteristics in a US President that the international community may probably not valuing. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been on a diplomatic career track, what with the Secretary of State position previously. But then, she's also having trouble for certain actions she's taken as Secretary of State. Let's see how these campaigns progress.

A claim that "fake" rice was being sold in the Philippines has been debunked. There was growing social media concern about the presence of what complainants called "fake" rice in the markets. The National Food Authority (NFA) led an inter-agency investigation to probe into this inquiry. IRRI's Grain Quality and Nutrition Centre analysed the samples provided by the NFA and was on-board during the press conference declaring the assessments of different institutions on the samples provided by the NFA's Food and Development Centre (FDC).

Russia starts attacks into Syria. But I don't understand yet why Russia became involved into the fight. I must have missed something while reading the news. Time will tell...

Laglag Bala. The constant news feed about innocent people whose baggage were planted with bullets from who knows jolted the activists in social media into action first. Come on, the constant appearance of bullets in people's bags? That cannot be a hundred or so people not knowing that it's illegal to carry firearms. These incidents at the x-ray machines most probably have something to do with corrupt employees looking to bribe people of their money. However, it is also possible that airport personnel have nothing to do with these bullet-plantings and some other people, with more sinister plans, are doing this to tarnish the hard-earned removal of the Philippines' NAIA from the world's worst airports list. Tsk. Crab mentality.

Paris had to face terror one more time. As the year enters the fourth quarter, violence strikes France yet again! ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings, hostage-takings, and killings done that dark evening in Paris on November 13th, a Friday... Initial news reports suggest that some of the identified perpetrators used the current refugee crisis to gain access to France. The scary thing about this is that these criminals chose to conduct their crimes in populated places for maximum impact: a football stadium, a concert hall, restaurants... but they seem to forget one thing (or they even might have factored this in): France was already in heightened security because of the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the upcoming COP21 summit. What came to mind while I was watching the news unfold was The Dark Knight Rises. Sorry for the movie reference, but I think that the perpetrators want to have chaos. Unfortunately, the French didn't give them that.

The next stage of IRRI is unfolding. Dr Bob Zeigler has retired on a high note, as the Director General of IRRI. We bid him farewell and welcomed Dr. Matthew Morell as the new DG on December 11th. And because Matthew is taking on the top spot, IRRI began searching for the next Deputy Director General for Research. On December 17th, Matthew formally announced that Dr Jackie Hughes has taken on the challenge for leading the research team of IRRI. She begins work in IRRI in April.