Saturday, July 22, 2006

Prof. Pepito M. Fernandez: An Educator, A Scientist and An Administrator


Melchor F. Cichon
April 27, 2005

In the next 15 to 20 years, the sea will become the basket of food to Filipinos.

That is if our people will not pollute it.

This was the prediction of Prof. Pepito Fernandez, the former dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of the Philippines in the Visayas, Miag-ao, Iloilo, when this writer interviewed him on September 1, 1997 at his office in Miag-ao, Iloilo.
He further said that since our arable land area is becoming smaller and smaller because of the conversion of lands into subdivisions and commercial centers, our people will focus their attention to the sea to seek food and livelihood.

He laments, however, that our government is not giving as much attention as it does to agriculture. This is one of the many reasons why he advocated together with Dr. Flor Lacanilao for the approval of the Fisheries Code. He believes that this Code will enhance greater fishery production. Of course, the results of this Code will not be immediate, but with an umbrella organization, like a Department of fisheries or a Fisheries Commission, coordination of programs, projects and activities on fisheries will be better managed.
And funding on fisheries will be optimized.

The Code was approved on February 25, 1998 as RA No. 8550 known as Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. It is an act providing for the development, management and conservation of the fisheries and aquatic resources, integrating all laws pertinent thereto, and for other purposes.
No department nor a commission on fisheries was established. Instead the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was reconstituted, and a position of Undersecretary for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was created.

Prof. Fernandez also laments on the situation of fisheries education in the country. He said that many of our fisheries schools can not pass the standard for Bachelor of Science in Fisheries and Diploma in Fisheries Technology Programs. He said that many of our fisheries schools and colleges lack human and physical resources. He knew this because he was a member of the committee who had been tasked by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) to evaluate tertiary fisheries schools in the country. By lack of human resources, he means the lack of highly trained faculty and research staff of these schools. According to him, a great majority of the faculty members of the tertiary schools in the country today do not have masteral degrees in fisheries or biology from reputable universities like U.P., Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle University. Aside from this, the schools lack scientific equipment, books, journals and other reading materials on fisheries and related subjects to support their academic programs. Of course there are some fisheries colleges that have considerable human and physical resources, like the College of Fisheries of Central Luzon State University, the Iloilo State College of Fisheries and the Regional Institutes of Fisheries Technology (RIFT). But there are only seven RIFTs in the country. So we can see what kind of fisheries graduates we have.
What he envisions is a college of fisheries that “institutes degree programs that address the need for sustainable development of the country’s fisheries resources and can respond to the call for highly trained manpower in the field. Its curricular offerings both in the graduate and the undergraduate levels aim to impart to their students theoretical knowledge and practical skills, toward innovative approaches and solutions to fisheries and related problems.” In short, what we need are fisheries graduates who will lead and initiate changes to sustain fishery development in the Philippines.

It is good that there are colleges and universities like the University of the Philippines and the Central Luzon State University that have been producing graduates who have played significant roles in the upliftment of fisheries in our country. But again these are very few.
Prof. Fernandez was born on May 5, 1936 in Camiling, Tarlac. His father was a farmer, while his mother was a housewife.

Because of poverty, Pete, as he is fondly called by his colleages, worked his way to college.
While studying in high school at the Tarlac Agricultural College, he worked as a poultry caretaker of that school from 1953-1957. It was there where he developed his interest in research. As a caretaker of the poultry farm, he noticed that it was difficult to determine which hens were poor layers, so he suggested that each layer be caged individually. His supervisor approved his suggestion. And it proved his point. From then on, they knew which layer should be culled early or not.

The systematic method used by Pete in poultry husbandry caught the attention of their superintendent, Nemenzo Bacalso.

Because of this, Superintendent Bacalso enouraged Pete to take up agriculture.
In 1960, Pete enrolled at U.P. Los Baños taking up poultry husbandry. But after a year, through the encouragement of his relative, he transferred to the College of Fisheries, U.P. , Diliman, Quezon City. He thought that enormous challenges were awaiting him in fisheries than in agriculture.

And so far he has no regrets for having taken Fisheries as a career.
Immediately after finishing taking his Bachelor of Science in Fisheries degree in 1966, the College Dean, Prof. Rogelio O. Juliano employed him as research assistant in his research project. Upon termination of the Dean’s project, he applied for a work at the Commission of Fisheries at Port Area, Manila. But when he met Section Head Herminio R. Rabanal, he turned him down.

“This is not the place for you, Mr. Fernandez,” Chief Rabanal told him. “And even if there is a vacancy here,” the Chief further said, “still I will not take you in.” Rabanal must have thought that Prof. Fernandez could earn more money and experiences if he would work in another agency.

And Pete did look for a job in a private firm. He was employed at Litton Mills and Co. in 1968. It was in this company where Prof. Fernandez career as a fisheries scientist started. He worked there as a shrimp biologist together with two Japanese scientists. The project was successful that a new site was established in Tawi-Tawi to be headed by him.
To prepare for the position, he was asked to attend seminars on personnel administration in Manila. In one of his trips to Manila, he learned that the main plant of Litton Mills and Co. was burned down. This incident weakened the shrimp project. Although he was still receiving his salary even without working, he got bored. He decided to seek other employment. Although it was difficult to grant his request for the company already had invested some amount of money on him, he was eventually allowed to leave. But he pledged to come back if ever his services were needed.

He applied for a job at the UP College of Fisheries in Diliman, Quezon City. At that time the dean of the college was Prof. Rogelio O. Juliano. Luckily Prof. Juliano hired him as a Research Assistant. He was assigned at the Institute of Fisheries Development and Research (IFDR), 1968-1970.

In 1970, Prof. Juliano hired him as an instructor of the then College of Fisheries. After four years, Prof. Fernandez became the Secretary of the College. Ten years later, he was appointed as Chairman of Department of Inland Fisheries, College of Fisheries, U.P. Because of his good record as an administrator and other qualifications, Prof. Juliano appointed him as UP in the Visayas Vice-Chancellor for Administration, when the former became the second UPV Chancellor. Chancellor Juliano replaced Chancellor Dionisia Rola when the latter retired on April 30, 1987.

While employed as a faculty and administrator, Prof. Fernandez served as Aquaculture Consultant to some private agencies. Three of which are Trivino Fishpond Project, 1984-1987; DM Consunje Fishpond Project, 1984-1986; and Benguet Management Corporation., 1984-1986. It was here where he developed his pet project: modular method of raising sugpo (prawn).
According to him this method of sugpo farming gives a much higher production than the traditional one, up to 5 folds. Under natural feeding, it enables the farmer to harvest up to 5 times a year for an aggregate yield of up to 2 tons per hectare. If required at all, supplemental feeding maybe resorted to only during the later part of the culture period, or as the growth rates of the prawns so indicate. Thus, this method entails relatively low cost of production with very lucrative returns. The pond operates with three pond series of different bottom elevations. Four weeks or so after stocking the nursery pond (NP), growout pond (GP-1) would be prepared to accommodate the juveniles from the NP. While the stock are at the GP-1, the nursery pond and the grow-out pond two (GP-2) would be prepared to accommodate a new batch of postlarvae and the post juveniles from fry source and GP-1 respectively. The process goes on cyclically every 40-45 days. Moreover, the method maximizes the use of labor and space without altering so much the technical attitude and temperament of the fish farmers. Recommended pond ratio is 1:2.5-3:5-6 (NP:GP-1:GP-2).

His other vital research undertakings include (1) nursery technique for sugpo in pond. Here provisions of shelters are provided to ensure high survival rate up to 94% for a 30-day rearing from the postlarvae. This could be in the form of coconut frond; dried branches or twigs of bamboo or non-toxic indigenous materials tied into small bundles. (2) Crab (Scylla serrata) fattening in pens installed in pond and in mangrove areas. The pens inhibit the crabs from escaping and boring holes on the dikes and utilizes spaces in mangrove areas without cutting the vital trees.

He has written and published books, articles and monographs. Some of these are the following: Fishery Arts for Secondary Schools: Exploratory (co-author). MBF Mercantile Corp., Quezon City, 1980. 322p.; A Manual in Fish Culture III. (major author, together with Crispino A. Saclauso and Arnulfo N. Marasigan), UPV College of Fisheries, Iloilo City, 1987. 159p.; Philippine Recommends for Bangus, 1976 (co-athored with Rogelio O. Juliano, Flerida M. Arce, Melchor M. Lijauco and Leda G. Handog); “Prawn farming in the Philippines: problems and prospects,” UPV Fisheries Journal 1(1):13-22 1985.

For his many achievements in and out of the academe, Prof. Fernandez has received the following awards: Most Outstanding Alumnus (Fisheries), Tarlac College of Agriculture, Camiling, Tarlac, April 9, 1985; Most Outstanding Faculty Award of 1986, U.P. in the Visayas, April 28, 1987.

Although Dean Fernandez has already achieved many things which many other individuals have not, yet he still has some dreams. He hopes that his modular method of sugpo farming be adopted by sugpo farmers to avoid the many diseases that have plagued the industry; that fisheries education in our country be improved so we can train and produce not only technical fisheries graduates but future leaders and scientists who will help accelerate fisheries development in our country; that the objectives of the Fisheries Code be realized soonest so that fisheries as a whole in our country will be better managed. Finally, he hopes that our fisheries students will acquire the appropriate information and technologies to better equip them in fighting whatever challenges that will confront them.

Finally, when this writer asked Dean Fernandez how he should be remembered, he said: as a scientist, as an educator and as an administrator.


His curriculum vitae, 1996. 11p.
Personal Interview, September 1, 1997.