11 Empowering Female Scientists Who Paved the Way for Filipino Women in Science
The Order of National Scientists (ONS) of the Philippines is the single highest recognition bestowed upon Filipino scientists by the national government. The lesser known cousin to the Order of National Artists, the ONS recognizes exemplary individuals to the Philippine scientific community. All national scientists must have doctorate in their field of specialization, as well as notable contributions to science in the Philippines.
There have been 42 national scientists in the order’s history, with 11 of them being female powerhouses who paved the way for women in science in the Philippines. These are the women who raised the bar, broke records, and carved out a space for women in science. From discovering new species to building the first Philippine children's hospital, these leaders in the field of STEM continue to empower aspiring female scientists in the Philippines.
This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the contributions of these 11 remarkable women scientists in the Philippines.
Encarnacion Alzona, Ph.D. (1895-2001)
Year conferred: 1985
Field of specialization: Philippine History
Alzona is first Filipino woman to obtan a Ph.D., and her name has literally gone down in history. A prominent historian, Alzona wrote many classics on the subject of Philippine history that younger generations have been using for decades. Some of these works include A History of Education in the Philippines and El Legado de Espana a Filipina. In her youth, she fought for women’s rights in the Philippines and was involved in the guerilla movement during World War II.
Clare Baltazar, Ph.D. (1927-)
Year conferred: 2001
Field of specialization: Systematic Entomology
Baltazar’s contribution to Philippine biology set the foundations for future scientists studying the country’s diverse species of insects. She wrote the very first authoritative text on Philippine insects and also discovered eight species and one subgenus of the Hymenoptera (wasps).
Gelia Castillo, Ph.D. (1928-2017)
Year conferred: 1999
Field of specialization: Rural Sociology
Castillo’s contributions to the Philippine social sciences laid the groundwork for many studies on Philippine agriculture and rural development. Her notable books include All in a Grain of Rice, which is the first book written by a Filipino that discusses how Filipino farmers are responding to technology, and Beyond Manila, which puts the spotlight on the problems and needs of the rural areas.
Mercedes Concepcion, Ph.D. (1928-)
Year conferred: 2010
Field of specialization: Demography
Concepcion’s research covered the fields of fertility, mortality, employment, labor force, women’s development, and population structure. She’s been called the “Mother of Asian Demography” for her tireless efforts in the field. Her research on the Filipino family has influenced both Philippine and international policy-making, which eventually led to her receiving the United Nations Population Award in 2005.
Lourdes Cruz, Ph.D. (1942-)
Year conferred: 2006
Field of specialization: Biochemistry
Lourdes’ research of toxic peptides from the venom of fish-hunting Conus marine snails led to the biochemical characterization of over 50 peptides in Conus venom, as well as the utilization of conotoxins to examine the human brain. Her discoveries even impacted the neuroscience field as conotoxins continue to be used to study brain activity.
Fe Del Mundo, M.D., M.A. (1911-2011)
Year conferred: 1980
Field of specialization: Pediatrics
Del Mundo pioneered pediatrics in the Philippines, going so far as to found the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines—the Children’s Medical Center. She sold her home and most of her personal things, pouring her money (as well as loans) to finance the construction of her hospital after she became fed up with the state of government hospitals. She was the first-ever woman to be conferred the rank and title of National Scientist of the Philippines.
Clara Lim-Sylianco, Ph.D. (1925-2013)
Year conferred: 1995
Field of specialization: Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry
Lim-Sylianco’s research on mutagens, antimutagens, bio-organic mechanisms, and chemical education produced over 50 scientific articles, seven books, and five monographs on organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetic toxicology, and molecular nutrition. She authored many college chemistry textbooks that are still being used to this day.
Luz Oliveros-Belardo, Ph.D. (1906-1999)
ear conferred: 1987
Field of specialization: Phytochemistry
Belardo’s lifelong dedication to the chemistry of natural products focused on extracting essential oils and other chemicals from native flora. Her discoveries have been used for pharmaceutical purposes, food production, and scents. For her research on the chemical and physical properties of essential oils, Belardo received over 32 honors and awards at home and abroad.
Dolores Ramirez, Ph.D. (1931-)
Year conferred: 1988
Field of specialization: Biochemical Genetics and Cytogenetics
A leader in the field of agricultural sciences, Ramirez focused her efforts on studying the genetic systems of native plants, like coconuts and rice. Her research on plant breeding and genetics empowered the agricultural community, including scientists and farmers alike. She’s been noted for pioneering the instruction of genetics, and has even been called “Mother Cell.”
Perla Santos-Ocampo, M.D. (1931-2012)
Year conferred: 2010
Field of specialization: Pediatrics
Ocampo was instrumental in the country’s fight against child nutrition, particularly her research on diarrheal diseases and malnutrition. She influenced the Department of Health’s policy of diarrhea-related health concerns, which led to improved clinical management and public health safety. Her dedication to childcare was internationally recognized as she was also a member of the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Panel on Maternal and Child Health in the 1980s.
Carmen Velasquez, Ph.D. (1913-1994)
Year conferred: 1983
Field of specialization: Parasitology
In her long scientific career, Velasquez discovered 32 new species and one new genus of digenetic trematodes in 13 families of Philippine fish. Her research helped the scientific community understand the relationships between fish parasitology, conservation, aquaculture, and public health.