Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in a nutshell

Aside from starting the year by flying over a grueling route, I list a few things that made 2016 another hallmark year...

The Philippine Supreme Court votes against the development and the consumption of genetically modified organisms. This is an example of people who aren't experts in science tend to be the ones making decisions about them... without listening to scientific explanations. Maybe they invoked the "who are they [the scientists] to play God?" argument while mulling over the pros and cons of GM crops. One thing is certain: the people who will benefit the most from the consumption and purchase of nutritionally superior, virtually pesticide-free, highly abundant crops will have to wait for yet another decade (at least) before the products see the light of day.

... And then the ruling was reversed. The Supreme Court decided thus because the field trials were already finished and that the issue was already moot. However, this is not time to rest: scientists have to find a more compelling way to convince people about the advantages of using GM crops if they want the science to move forward. Facts are poor arguments against emotionally charged and value-based claims.

David Bowie, German Moreno, Nancy Reagan, and Alan Rickman had curtain calls as the year begins. It was a shock that the year had barely started but some famous people won't see it blossom. The death that got me reeling was Alan Rickman's because his image in my mind has always been the healthy and sarcastic characters he played... Most notably Severus Snape, Absolem the Caterpillar, Hans Gruber, and that guy in Love, Actually. Other famous people followed them later in the year. What a year it is, yeah?

Belgium, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, and Pakistan get bombed. The difficulty with the fight against terrorism is that the enemy often doesn't have a face. A car bombing here; an airport explosion there; train attacks in multiple places... The daytime attack in Brussels was reminiscent of the evening attack in Paris. The Ankara and Istanbul attacks were horrendous too, but did not garner as much social media attention in the western world as Brussels did. No declarations of war; no faces owning up of responsibilities unlike those villains on action movies. Only people shouting in Arabic taken as a clue on who's responsible for the latest disturbance to the peace. During the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Belgians responded to the crisis by posting photos of cats on social media, to ensure that police movements won't be on top of timelines, I guess. This time, I wonder how they are going to respond. The Lahore Easter Sunday attack was particularly horrendous because the Taliban did it to persecute Christians, and chose a most holy of days to do so. On one hand, it was terrible; but on the other, those who died went to Heaven on such a glorious occasion.

Presidential elections in the Philippines and the USA. This has been an exciting year for politics. In the Philippine front, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential elections. In the USA, businessman Donald Trump beat former Senator Hillary Clinton. Both presidents-elect promised unconventional approaches to affect change in government; both were perceived as mavericks who are willing to take calculated risks (including their attention-grabbing campaign styles) to get to their goals. And both addressed concerns of a citizen base that is often ignored by political campaigns. In the Philippines, the presidential elections have caused a lot of people to take to social media to whine, to argue, and to break relationships. This is the first time I've seen politics have an effect like that to the personal lives of the electorate.

And yes, another Philippine presidential candidate died. This year, it's Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the witty senator. She's one of the brightest political stars... she could have one this election if not for her cancer. A lot of people didn't consider her seriously because she could die while in office, leading for the reigns of governance to fall upon the VP.

The Philippine Vice-Presidential race was more exciting than the Presidential race. Admittedly, I haven't expected that this year's elections to be the most polarising... for the VP position. As the dust starts settling, it appeared that Bongbong Marcos (son of former President Ferdinand Marcos) and Leni Robredo (wife of former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo) were head-to-head for the position. Allegations of cheating ran rampant due to the small difference in the number of votes at the beginning. As more mature (and less tech-savvy) Filipinos wait with bated breath, the young ones took to social media to express their frustrations to the chagrin of the more experienced voters.

China continues claiming territory of other countries. And other countries have started fighting back. Indonesia has detained Chinese boats that have wandered into its waters. The Philippines also won its arbitration case against China on who owns the West Philippine Sea, in July. China claims that the sea is part of its territory (South China Sea) but many countries challenge its claim. The Philippines won its battle. Let's see how Vietnam and other countries fare with their boundary claims. A Chinese boat has been sighted in yet another Philippine territory, the Benham Rise. Why does it want to claim territory already awarded to others?

ISIS has been driven out of Palmyra. Photos of the ancient monuments seem to show that these cultural treasures were not totally damaged. Russia has played a big role here because it has been deploying aircraft to Syria. And as the ISIS has been stripped off Palmyra, a Russian orchestra performed a concert among the ruins. It evoked images of the haunting scenes of Pink Floyd at Vesuvius. I can fully imagine U2 doing something similar.

Doping has hit Maria Sharapova hard. She is one of the world's best tennis players and is a great role model for young women. Recently, she failed a blood test (was it during the Australian Open period, I forget) because she claimed she didn't know that the medicine she's been taking for around 10 years for her heart condition has been banned; hence her failure. Despite this, she didn't get the backlash that Lance Armstrong had previously. I agree with public relations pundits when they said that Maria's response softened the blow: she took responsibility for the medicine use and apologised for it. This response is important, I think, because she shows young ones that people like her can make mistakes too and this is how proper people respond to the negative feedback.

The Philippines gained ground. Or seabed, if I must be geographically correct. The Philippines was granted Benham Rise, a seismologically active area bigger than Luzon.

"Brexit". The British people decided, in a non-binding referendum, that they want out of the European Union. I think that this puts the United Kingdom's unity at risk because Scotland wants to remain in the EU... Northern Ireland, too. If the UK decides to pursue leaving the EU, then Scotland might go for a second referendum to decide whether it will stay as a member of the UK or not. In all this, the Monarchy will probably be very influential... probably the same way that the Royal Family was during the 1940s... after all, it is this family's kingdom that may fall into shambles. In the meantime, one official has taken on the comedic spotlight: Larry, the Chief Mouser of Number 10 Downing Street (aka Larry the Cat). He remains constant throughout the political turmoil in the UK.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice-President Leni Robredo take over the Philippine government. Two local politicians will take on the reins of the Philippine government as June ends. They came out the victors in one of the most heated elections that the Philippines has had as of late. But Duterte's first days in office has caused a lot of people, even internationally, to be concerned about his opinion on human rights and how to put suspects to justice. Yes, suspects. I fear that the Philippines will soon become like the real-life Gotham City based on the media portrayal of all these extrajudicial killings and door-to-door house inspections. Duterte's first months in office show that he's also prone to speaking his mind without thinking of international repercussions as his team always issues what I call the "what the President really meant" statements after his speeches. I am hopeful that the President will learn to deal with the international crowd and with the media more diplomatically.

Turkey and its coup d'├ętat. The military coup was staged on July 15–16 but it appears that it's short-lived. People have gone to the streets, in what reminds me of the EDSA Revolutions. As I read the Twitter posts on it, I wonder if that's how the Philippines looked like (chaotic, dangerous) back when coup attempts happened during President Cory Aquino's time, the EDSA 2 protests that toppled President Erap Estrada, and EDSA 3 that threatened the stability of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration. In contrast to the successors of government after the Philippine popular uprisings, the current president, Erdogan, doesn't have a good reputation internationally.

Davao night market bombing. Soon after President Duterte took office, terrorists bombed a public market in Davao City, touted to be one of the safest cities in the country. It's sad because the Philippines' new president was still learning the ropes when this happened... but I was quite happy because Davao City was able to recover from this quickly. And the government officials handled the situation very well.

Rio Olympics. Amid so many controversies leading up to the event, Brazil was able to host this highly anticipated event. The Philippines competed in basketball in the qualifier rounds but fell out of the competition, with France eventually besting the countries that competed in Manila. I wasn't able to follow the games on the telly because of the time difference. However, I was very happy to learn that the Philippines won a medal in weightlifting.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago bids a final farewell. She succumbed to cancer and has now joined the ranks of luminary female leaders who have all moved on. I rooted for her on her first run for the Presidency. After all, she was touted as the Iron Lady of Asia... just as former PM Margaret Thatcher was nicknamed the Iron Lady in the UK.

Brad and Angelina divorced. I thought that they're the model married couple. They have a lot of kids. Angelina seemed to be doing a good job raising them, making movies, and performing her humanitarian duties. Brad looked like a doting dad while juggling career and doing public service to people affected by calamities. And then they dropped the shocker: they were separating! Whatever the reason, it is a sad story still. Perhaps, they were doing to much and their relationship started to crack. Who knows?

Former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. is allowed burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The thing is, his burial is met with so much opposition that I really doubt that he's even supposed to be buried there. And who wouldn't protest? He declared Martial Law in the Philippines, he allegedly hoarded a lot of money from the country's coffers, and he is responsible for so many human rights violations inflicted on his enemies. Does that sound heroic to anyone? No. However, for one reason or another, the current Philippine President supported his burial in the heroes' cemetery and majority of the Supreme Court judges supported it too. What in the world?!? We celebrate EDSA Revolution 1986 every year; we celebrate the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino; we kicked off that family from Malaca├▒an Palace... and now he gets buried like a hero?!? But he wasn't. The family elected to hold a "private" funeral, which basically means he was snuck into the cemetery and buried without as much pomp and pageantry because he really was not a hero. Want to see how a hero gets buried? Watch how Cory and Ninoy were brought to Manila Memorial Park. That's how we bury heroes.

Fidel Castro dies. This effectively put Cuba in the international spotlight because his death has marked an end of an era. The Obama administration has been strengthening ties with Cuba. Who knows what the future holds now that Cuba has a changing of the guards.

IR8's 50th anniversary. "Miracle Rice", that is how IR8 is touted. It is a rice variety developed by IRRI plant breeders, which prevented food shortage in Asia back in the 1960s and 1970s... which was associated with the rapid increase in population. The celebration was a big event, with activities organized both in India and in the Philippines. For me, a scientist who is standing on the shoulders of these giants, I wonder how my research will contribute to making rice better, one variety at a time.

George Michael and Carrie Fisher die as the year closes. This 2016 is a year of many shocking deaths for artists. The year began with deaths and it seems like it will end with a few more too. George Michael died in his sleep in the UK while Carrie Fisher suffered from cardiac arrest in an airplane.

What a year 2016 turned out to be. It marked upheavals that I take to be the general public's way of saying they want change from the existing system. Life will not be the same as we turn the page and enter Chapter 2017. I hope that the following year will be kinder and more peaceful than the turbulent year 2016 proved itself to be.

We'll see...