The University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) continue to champion science and technology applications to benefit the country.

On April 7, The Next Generation/The Now Generation Forensic Science Symposium was held to further promote the use and advantages of forensic science in conducting criminal investigations like examining crime scenes or tampered evidences; in identifying casualties after natural calamities like Typhoons Yolanda and Ondoy or man-made disasters like the Maguindanao massacre or the most recent Mamasapano tragedy; and in establishing familial relationships.With the advent of social media and communication gadgets, there is even a greater need for Filipinos to be more discerning when receiving and passing on information especially about crimes. Not discounting the help of eyewitness accounts, forensic science plays a significant role in the pursuit of criminal justice in the country.

Forensic scientist for each municipality

In a country where over 90% of convictions are based on testimonial evidence, the academic community is faced with getting more Filipinos to be aware of the use of forensic science and what recent technology is accessible in the country. Using available technology and putting science into good use to benefit the Filipino is a noble feat. Besides public safety and post-disaster management, forensic science applications can also play a vital role in food handling and inspection.

The forensic symposium now on its second run aims to promote a mindset of objectivity and evidence-based approach in handling crimes or convicting an alleged perpetrator. With very few universities offering bachelor’s degree in forensic science, the country is very much in need of more forensic scientists. Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria, Head of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Natural Sciences Research Institute, DNA Analysis Laboratory (UPD-NSRI-DAL) and Director of the University of the Philippines, Philippine Genome Center, Forensics and Ethnicity Program of (UP-PGC-FnE) is spearheading various activities in bringing forensic science to public consciousness. Apart from her laboratory’s researches, she and her able team conduct capacity building activities such as public symposia and hands-on trainings, and workshops on forensic DNA applications.

Forensic science is crucial in any criminal investigation. Imagining the Philippines with forensic scientists in each municipality is ideal, may be challenging but attainable feat. In her presentation, Dr. De Ungria relayed the humble beginnings of the forensic science symposium series, which was made possible thru collaborations with and the efforts of Dr. Ian Fontanilla (a core group member of the UPD-PGC-FnE) and UP Diliman’s Institute of Biology (UPD-IB, where Dr. Fontanilla is faculty). Following the symposium, Dr. De Ungria also shared that select participants from National Bureau of Investigation, Commission on Human Rights, and budding forensic scientists will have an intensive 3-days hands-on training on forensic science, which was made possible through the financial support of the DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development. To end her message, Dr. De Ungria urged the next generation of forensic scientists, to pursue further studies abroad through internship grants or sandwich programs but reciprocate the government’s investment by giving back and serving the country.

Forensic science abroad

Bringing in three internationally acclaimed forensic scientists provided a significant insight for the local attendees. Dr. Mechthild Prinz, former Director of the Department of Forensic Biology at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City (NYCOCME) and Associate Professor and Director of the Masters Program in Forensic Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice shared the lessons from the 9/11 tragedy that shocked the world. Dr. Marie Allen of Uppsala University in Sweden, an expert in the field of medical genomics and genetics shared the advantages when using Next Generation Sequencing technology, and how such tools provide massive data for improved forensic DNA analysis. Dr. Zoran Budimlija, who worked as head of the World Trade Center DNA Special Projects team for NYCOCME and is now the Forensic Science Department Training Coordinator and Deputy Manager of Quality Control and Quality Assurance at the International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) shared how they can provide assistance as a resource organization in capacity building.

State of forensic science in the country

Assistant Secretary Lila Ramos Shahani, Head of Communications of Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet provided the current state of disaster victim identification in the Philippines and the need for inter-agency cooperation. Ms. Sheila Dennis, a Fulbright scholar at UPD-NSRI-DAL shared her work and research on forensics and ethnicity relevant in getting to know more of the Filipinos genealogy. In her closing remarks, Dr. Carmencita D. Padilla Executive Director of the PGC emphasized to the young audience the importance of being passionate about an endeavor and being passionate along the way. Dr. Padilla likewise mentioned that collaboration is a key factor in success in research, and that the PGC is a partner for all researchers in the country. The PGC’s core facilities, the DNA Sequencing Core Facility and Core Facility for Bioinformatics are not limited to the University of the Philippines. The PGC is meant to help all the researchers, scientists, faculty or students or faculty researchers to be able to move forward and come up with genomics research projects. Dr. Padilla added that the DOST’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development is very keen to support PGC’s 3rd core facility which is the Bio-banking Facility. Dr. Padilla said, “We are very fortunate to have received 600 million pesos worth of research grants spread over the PGC’s five research programs: Agriculture, Health, Forensics & Ethnicity, Biodiversity and Ethics, Legal & Social Issues”. UP likewise provided 300 million pesos to build the PGC building which will soon house the core facilities. “For the first time in my career as faculty member and researcher, I truly felt the support of the government” Dr. Padilla added.

To end the whole day symposium, students from UP and other universities, representatives from government agencies and private organizations had a tour of the UPD-NSRI-DAL, and the PGC’s DNA Sequencing Core Facility and the Core Facility for Bioinformatics. The symposium is a project of the University’s Philippine Genome Center, Program on Forensics and Ethnicity, the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Natural Sciences Research Institute, DNA Analysis Laboratory and the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Institute of Biology, Biology Class 397 (Bio 397).