“The stars have finally aligned,” said Dr. Myra O. Villareal, the Balik Scientist, as she was formally introduced to Bicol University (BU) on May 19, 2022 at the Aquilino P. Bonto Amphitheatre during the welcome program themed “BU-DOST Balik Scientist Program: Balik Puso, Balik Pilipinas.”
Through the initiative of the BU College of Science headed by Dean Jocelyn E. Serrano, the BU community was brought together to celebrate the first Balik Scientist Program Awardee ever granted in the Bicol region. The event was graced by some students and distinguished professors, coordinators, deans and directors from the different colleges in the university. Selected students from Institute of Physical Education Sports and Recreation (IPESR) also performed Jota de Manila and Pantomina. Some of them came personally while some attended via facebook live.
The program started with a prayer led by Dr. Maria Teresa A. Mirandilla, faculty from the BUCS Biology Department. It was followed by the Philippine National Anthem conducted by Prof. Carina L. Sales, director of the Institute of Physical Education Sports and Recreation (IPESR). The opening remarks filled with a background of the Balik Scientist Program (BSP) was given by Dr. Lilibeth A. Cajuday, head of the BUCS Biology Department. The Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Amelia A. Dorosan, set the tone of the ceremony while sharing her welcome message to everybody.
The importance and privilege of having a Balik Scientist was reiterated by President Arnulfo M. Mascariñas during his inspirational message. BU, being the first BSP host institution in the region, hopes and expects for more Balik Scientists to follow Dr. Villareal. He encouraged all the colleges to look and grab for opportunities like BSP to invite technologists and experts in their fields. The BU College of Science, for example, has secured this opportunity through the efforts of Dean Serrano.
Dr. Myra Orlina Villareal was amiably introduced by Dean Serrano before her talk titled “Balik Scientist Engagement at Bicol University: Balik Puso, Balik Pilipinas, Balik Bicol.” Aside from sharing her life experiences, she also presented what Balik Scientist Program (BSP) is all about. Her engagement to BU is short term, composed of three phases. The Phase 1 started on April 1, 2022, while giving lectures and seminars to BUCS MS Biology students online delivery. To date, she is on her Phase 2 until July 30, 2022. Phase 3 will happen from September 16 to November 20, 2022.
The Balik Scientist Program of the Department of Science and Technology was designed through the RA 11035 “Balik Scientist Act”. According to its declaration of policy, this is to support the participation of science, technology or innovation experts of descent in research and development initiatives for our country. These experts, also known as Balik Scientists, are Filipino citizens or a foreigner of Filipino descent, residing abroad. This program specifically aims to reverse the effect of brain drain, strengthen S&T capabilities, accelerate flow of technologies and promote knowledge sharing.
Dr. Villareal is perfectly coming home, as she was originally a Bicolano, born in Legazpi City. While she serves as the DOST-PCHRD Balik Scientist in the Philippines, Dr. Villareal is still affiliated in the University of Tsukuba, Japan. She spent her basic education in Naga City with high honors and opportunities that led her obtained her B.S. Agriculture and M.S. Microbiology degrees from the University of the Philippines (Los Baños). She studied Ph.D. in Agriculture from the University of Tsukuba, Japan.
Prior to her education and work in Japan, Dr. Villareal worked as a University Research Associate I in Biofertilizer/Agri Lab and Genetics Lab at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH)-UPLB. She was also a Quality Control Manager and Assistant Quality Assurance Manager at Peter Paul Philippine Corporation. She was an instructor at the Biology Department of Ateneo de Manila. At present, she works as a faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences in the University of Tsukuba with affiliations to Alliance for Research on Mediterranean and North Africa and School of Integrative and Global Majors (SIGMA). She has collaborated with Japanese industries in research and development of natural products.
With her expertise in cell biology and functional food science and the prospect of BU becoming the Center for Research on Functional Food through the DOST PCHRD NICER Health program, a dream for an income-generating mammalian cell culture assay laboratory will be established. This short stint of Dr. Villareal was also co-hosted by the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) and Manila (UPM) to establish a collaboration that will further improve BU’s capacity for instruction and research. To accomplish these deliverables, Dr. Villareal has planned a series of activities such as functional food webinars, faculty and student mentorship, research proposal preparation, and publication of research output with the faculty of BU, UPLB, and UPM.
The program was successfully concluded with the positive response of Prof. Charmaine A. Malonzo, a faculty of the BUCS Biology Department, and the acknowledgment of Dr. Raymond S. Regalia, program adviser of the MS Biology program. Indeed, this is a fantastic way to rekindle BU’s enthusiasm for science research and development.
/Jocelyn E. Serrano & Eliza Joyce M. Perillo