There are wonderful surprises that come our way, at one time or another, in our life. And to me this prestigious award is the greatest and most wonderful surprise of all.
I wish to thank the officers of the Magsaysay Award Foundation, particularly those who even began to think of me as deserving of this award to honor the great Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay. I also thank my numerous colleagues, friends, admirers, fellow ecologists, and conservationists for their kind words of congratulations. In my many years of painstaking research—of going deep into our forests and undertaking marine life conservation—a prestigious award of this kind was way beyond my wildest dreams.
I also wish to thank my wife Naomi and our children, whose loving support and understanding allowed me to be away from home for lengths of time pursuing my love of field research, spearheading conservation projects, and attending gatherings of scholars around the world.
I am grateful to Silliman University and Stanford University, which have given me excellent training in my chosen field of biology. And, of course, I thank my many research colleagues and the funding agencies that have made possible what the Magsaysay Award Foundation has perceived to be my achievements.
I hope that the recognition of my life’s work by the foundation serves to boost the morale of many of my fellow biologists and researchers, as well as dedicated teachers who work in relative obscurity.
On this occasion, I think of the great Silliman motto: Via, Veritas, Vita, particularly the word Veritas. I like to think that I’ve been given this award because of my passionate search for biological Truth. Indeed, I think I’ve done this search for Truth the way the great biologist Thomas Huxley described serious study:
Sit down before a fact like a little child. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and whatever depths nature leads. Otherwise you shall learn nothing.
But I also like to think that while I have learned truth in abundance, I have also made it my preoccupation to do the truth, to pursue its practice, to apply what I have learned, particularly in the areas of environmental enrichment and conservation of our nation’s natural wealth.
Indeed, I am highly honored that I am awarded for trying to know and do the truth. At the same time, however, I wish to confess, on behalf of all sincere environmentalists and conservationists, that our endeavors have not been sufficient to stem the tide of human error that has caused such tragedies as Ormoc, the deterioration of our marine life, the denudation of our forest reserves, and the annihilation of what we possess in abundance. In short, the alarming and wanton destruction of our natural resources.
So on this occasion of honor and celebration, allow me to express a warning and a challenge to all of us, Filipinos and Asians: that unless we move fast to put a stop to the rape of our natural resources, we will remain poor, destitute, pitiful, and even become worse off. If the environmental destruction continues without letup, it will be our children and our children’s children who will reap the tragic consequences.
My friends, we now find ourselves at the crossroads between poverty and prosperity. Our future is only as good as what we make of the present.