LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – A regional center of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) has commended the Philippine government for its support over the past five decades.
As part of the Philippines' commitment to the regional body, the government contributes to the annual operating funds of the SEAMEO Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) which it uses mainly for administration, management, and other programs and activities of the center.
"Hence, SEARCA's various programs in Southeast Asia carry with them the Philippines' goodwill among other SEARCA member countries," the center stated in its report covering the half century of its existence.
SEARCA is one of 21 centers of SEAMEO, an inter-government treaty body founded in 1965 to foster cooperation in science, education, and culture among Southeast Asian countries. The center is hosted by the government, through the Department of Education (DepEd), in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB).
Starting with only six countries including the Philippines as charter members, SEAMEO now has as members all 11 Southeast Asian countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
Associate members are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
SEARCA commemorated its Golden Year in 2016 through a series of events in line with its mandate to provide capacity-building interventions in agriculture and rural development (ARD) in Southeast Asia through its scholarship, research, knowledge management and specialist short-term training programs.
A series of activities capped the year-long celebration.
Among the main events was the Grand Alumni Homecoming attended by about 200 alumni from the 11 SEAMEO countries held last Nov. 25 at the SEARCA headquarters in the UPLB complex.
The assembly was highlighted by the launch of the Outstanding SEARCA Scholarship Alumni (OSSA) and Emerging Leaders in Transition Economies (ELITE) awards.
The OSSA award was conferred on five Filipinos, two Indonesians, two Thais, one Malaysian and one Vietnamese. A national of Timor-Leste and a Cambodian received the ELITE awards.
The 11 OSSA and two ELITE awardees, said SEARCA director Gil Saguiguit Jr., were the "cream of the crop" from about 1,400 nationals of SEAMEO countries who have earned their doctoral and master's degrees since the scholarship program was launched in 1968.
At the alumni homecoming, Saguiguit said many of the SEARCA fellows have risen to high positions in government, academe and other important international and national institutions.
"Many have become ministers, deputy ministers, members of parliament and cabinet, rectors and presidents of universities, and other prestigious positions in their respective chosen careers," he said.
"Living proof of the unprecedented success and contributions of SEARCA's graduate scholarship program to agriculture and rural development in Southeast Asia and even beyond," he added.
During the commemorative program, SEARCA also launched a book titled "SEARCA's First 50 Years: Pushing the Frontiers of Agricultural and Rural Development."
In research, 249 R&D projects undertaken by SEARCA over the past more than four decades have benefited the Philippines.
Thirty Filipinos also benefited from SEARCA's Seed Fund for Research and Training (SFRT), a competitive grant that provides assistance (maximum of $15,000) to selected researchers and scientists.
The Philippine agencies that partnered with SEARCA projects included the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Education (DepEd), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Science and Technology (DOST), Agrarian Reform (DAR); Commission on Higher Education (CHED); Commission on Climate Change (CCC); National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and a number of state universities.
In training, some 7,000 of the almost 15,000 who attended SEARCA's specialist short-term training courses were Filipinos.
Summing up, Saguiguit thanked SEARCA's long-standing partners and donors, the Philippine government foremost, for their continued support to the center over the past five decades.
"We look forward to the next 50 years with great excitement and expectations that SEARCA will yet outdo itself," he said.