I, IRRI & ISI. Entertaining angels unawares, or thinking Jatropha

Revised 26 December 2013 at 0700 hours, especially the last paragraph and, consequently, the 2nd part of the title

clip_image002MANILA: It's almost the end of another year and, funny how the past comes to haunt you. You are looking at my shot that appears on the cover of a science publication that I edited, 2007; this is Jatropha, a devil in disguise; from the same source comes both blessing (biodiesel) and curse (poison).

I wasn't looking for it, but I just saw an ICRISAT ad for "Manager, Scientific Editing and Publishing (All Exams & Jobs, blogspot.com), and of course I was reminded of an IRRI ad for "Manager - Communications" (linkedin.com), because I had earlier written about it (see my "Managing Rice Communications. IRRI catching fire," 05 December 2013, Frank A Hilario, blogspot.com).

ICRISAT and IRRI are siblings within the family of their mother, single-parent Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). They have different progenies, ICRISAT born in 1972 in India, and IRRI born in 1960 in the Philippines. I have been writing earnestly and continually about ICRISAT since 2007 and have the blessing of 6 books published with its 5 mandate crops of chickpea, peanut, pearl millet, pigeon pea, and sweet sorghum. I have yet to have the blessing of writing a single book on IRRI with its single crop of rice.

For either position in either Institute, minimum requirement, MS degree? Good, so you can't say I'm actually applying for either position – I don't have an MS. I did go for such a degree, but only half-heartedly. I didn't want to learn more about writing; I wanted to write more.

Applicants wanted, ICRISAT or IRRI. So, not me, but if truth be told, I once applied for and desperately wanted to get the position of Assistant Editor (Ass Ed) at IRRI, sometime in the late 1970s, when Walter G Rockwood was Chief Editor, if I remember right. And it was quite embarrassing – both for the local boy (me) and the international agency (IRRI). This is what happened: I got AssEd.

Let me explain. I applied for the position and took the aptitude exam, which I had to pass if I were to be considered a promising Ass Ed candidate at all. I tried to do my very best in that exam, because I wanted so badly to get into IRRI, for the money – IRRI paid well, very well – and I knew I was more than equal to the job.

A few days later, the Chief Editor called me to his office and told me, in so many words, "Frank, I think you are the guy we're looking for, but just to be sure, I prepared a little test just for you." He was smiling. If I was smiling too, you would have to forgive me, because I knew I was that good. I'll call it The Rockwood Test. It was a 10-item editing exam, and when I fast-read it and came to #10, which had a booby trap hidden in it, I knew that I knew all the answers – the test was new but the manner was familiar.

At that time, I was already Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Forest Research Institute (FORI), and already I was Founder and Editor in Chief of FORI's monthly non-technical newsletter Canopy, founder and Editor in Chief of FORI's quarterly technical journal Sylvatrop, and founder and Editor in Chief of FORI's quarterly color magazine Habitat, the layout and stories of which I patterned after the US National Geographic. I was never late in any issue, and these publications made FORI popular in the Philippines and abroad. Remember, those were the Days of the Dinosaurs, those giant manual typewriters, but I was as fast with my typing as I was with my editing.

I finished The Rockwood's Test fast. I wanted to show him I was better than he probably thought I was. And when the Chief Editor looked at what I handed him, he smiled again and said, "Yes, I think you are the guy we're looking for. Don't call us, we'll call you."

You must have heard that before.

Long story short? This is going to be a long story. We didn't hear from IRRI after 60 days. We didn't hear from IRRI after 120 days. We didn't hear from IRRI after 180 days. Finally, we decided to find out what happened. If silence meant Yes, why was IRRI taking so long to announce it? My wife asked a friend, one of the editors of IRRI, to ask around. She found out that there had been a violent objection to the results of my aptitude exam. The opinion that prevailed was that there must have been a leak – my grade in that aptitude exam was too high it was unbelievable! I must have scored 90% or higher.

If they confronted me, I could have easily explained the phenomenon. I have always been a wide reader. High school, I was already reading voraciously the Reader's Digest, TIME Magazine, and bundles and bundles of books, classics and western, from the library of our school, the Rizal Junior College in my hometown of Asingan in Pangasinan in Central Luzon in the Philippines. History? Literature? Social Studies? Math? Science? Economics? You couldn't scare me with any of those subjects. I was in love with all those subjects in high school yet! Not only that. After College, I learned how to guess at word meanings intelligently, because I had been reading reviewers that would tell you, for instance, to look at the prefix – or think of a similar one – to guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

What happened was that IRRI decided to hire instead an Editorial Assistant (a girl), as if to tell the world that they had made a typographical mistake in advertising for an Assistant Editor, and that they preferred a female. If I wanted to complain, I couldn't. I didn't. I realized only too late that I had tried too hard to get into IRRI to become an Ass Ed, but instead I got AssEd. No hard feelings!

I think the main reason was that IRRI was afraid of Frank Agapito Hilario, a writer of known talent – and persuasion. Also that my exam results were too good to be true. I was too good to be true.

I was about 40 years young at that time, full of energy of mind if not of body. Years before that, at the Cow College (College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines), I had been an activist against the US war in Vietnam, and I didn't hide behind a fictitious name. in fact, I wrote an open letter, signed, stenciled and delivered to those attending the 10 October 1967 Loyalty Day celebration; the title of that letter was "What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?" It was my letter to the child within my wife's womb (she would be born the next year, 14 February 1968), telling that child that the Cow College volunteers (all staff and students) of 10 October 1914 were willing to go to war not out of loyalty to the Philippines but out of loyalty to the US of A. The Philippines was not involved in World War I. The open letter was American satire, an open reproach.

That open letter made the whole Cow College mad, enraged to the bones, especially the volunteers of 1914 who vowed to fight World War I in Europe. The war ended before they could be trained and shipped, but the fact was that their volunteerism had already been enshrined in the history of the Cow College and the Tenth of October had for decades been celebrated as Loyalty Day.

Being disloyal to my alma mater, the bulls kicked my ass out of Los Baños in Luzon and I landed in Cagayan De Oro City in Mindanao, on the campus of the Xavier University College of Agriculture (XUCA). From the State University to the Church University – dare I say that the Church was more intelligent than the State in the matter that involved me? The Church was more forgiving, that's for sure. It forgave me of my sin of commission. I have since forgiven myself of the impetuousness of youth and asked God to forgive me for the arrogance of talent.

After Xavier U, I worked as a Documentalist for the National Institute of Science & Technology in Manila (under Jose R Velasco, Director), then as a Copywriter for Pacifica Publicity Bureau in Makati (under Nonoy Gallardo, Creative Director). After Pacifica came FORI, where I became CIO as I said earlier, and from where I was hoping to transfer to IRRI. For the higher pay.

At around the time that IRRI would have none of my services as editor, at FORI my good friend JAC – God bless his soul – told me, "If truth be told, there are only 2 people who made FORI: Pete Bueno and you." He meant we made FORI popular here and abroad. I didn't argue. If truth be told, I was the one who made FORI popular with those 3 FORI publications coming out in both technical language and plain English, but I salute Pete for giving me all the freedom I wanted and fighting for me when the going got rough.

Years later, I could have been the first Filipino who became Chief Editor of IRRI. Anyway, barring any rule against such an occurrence of a local boy making good, I knew I was that good. My mistake was that I tried too hard. I didn't know that doing my best was going to be my worst.

More than 3 decades after I did not become Editor of IRRI, I did become Editor in Chief of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS), the triannual technical journal of the Crop Science Society of the Philippines (CSSP) based at the campus of UP Los Baños in Laguna. For my first issue of the PJCS, the publisher was celebrating its 25th anniversary, 2001, the CSSP having been founded in 1976. That issue was somewhat of an anomaly, because I was publishing it in 2003 since the PJCS was effectively late by 3 years.

I was crazy accepting the job for a few thousand pesos per issue, but the challenge was irresistible simply because it looked impossible: Make the PJCS world-class. I was incorrigible; if you told me it was impossible, I'd go ahead and try. It was a crazy one-man job: I was my own Secretary, Proofreader, Managing Editor, Editor in Chief, and Layout Artist. I decided to junk the conventional pre-printing process and went desktop publishing instead. I was my own desktop publisher (the person, not the program). My working mantra was that if I could put it in the computer, I could work on it. If anyone could do it, I was the one.

So I worked out each page of each issue onscreen; I formatted characters, lines, paragraphs and sections; I inserted the running texts and page numbers, images, tables, charts and graphs on the appropriate pages and Moses-like, I parted the waters of the Red Sea of columns of text. And you know what? I was using "only" Microsoft Word as my desktop publisher, first Word 2002 (Word XP), later Word 2003. I have since graduated to writing books and desktop publishing using Word 2007, then Word 2010, and now Word 2013. How could I turn a word processor into a desktop publisher? As Manuel Uy used to say to sweepstakes buyers, "A Quitter Never Wins; A Winner Never Quits." A master never quits learning.

That's how I was able to get the PJCS published 2 times the number of regular issues in a year, 6 instead of 3 issues. And that's how it became up-to-date in 3 years. That was 2006. Since it was now coming out regularly and on time; since it now had an international Board of Editors; all the papers had international application, and the papers were now well-edited, the next year, 2007, it became ISI, or world-class. (The image above is from the August 2007 issue, a blessing in disguise.) That is, it was now included in the elite list of science publications referred to as ISI (for Institute for Scientific Information). It is now referred to as Web of Knowledge, but "ISI" has the bite that "Web of Knowledge" doesn't have. Sometimes the old has more bite than the new.

I had been blogging about ICRISAT since 2007, and in 2011, I already had 5 books of popular science essays published by this Insitute based in India. That year, the UP Los Baños Alumni Association honored me as The Most Outstanding Alumnus for Creative Writing. Sometimes the old recognizes the old, if belatedly. If you needed proof of my versatility as a worker of ideas and images in technical and popular science, this was the official seal.

Today, late 2013, Christmas Day, thinking of IRRI when I applied there as Assistant Editor, late 1970s, when there was no room for me at the inn, I will hide behind the Bible and say that IRRI would not entertain angels unawares. No, it didn't think Jatropha. In publications, IRRI didn't know what was good for IRRI.

Popular posts from this blog

GABRIELA is scandalized by Asingan Bikini Open

"O Naraniag A Bulan." How an old folk song can help choose new Senators!

What Federalism? Precisely, That Is The Question!