UP hosts first CUPSCon, features Public Service through Genetics and Health Promotion

by Ryan Pascual (Regulon)

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA – Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) from various parts of Luzon gathered for the inaugural Colleges and Universities Public Service Conference (CUPSCon1) hosted by the University of the Philippines last November 26-27,2015. This is the second installment of CUPSCon1 with the first held on November 16-17 in UP Cebu and participated by HEIs from Visayas and Mindanao.

The two-day conference with the theme "From the Ivory Tower to the Communities: Engaging Society with Commitment and Expertise" was held at UP Open University (UPOU) and it featured plenary and parallel sessions on the policies and projects of HEIs that benefit sectors outside the university community. 

According to the UPLB OVCRE website, the use of the "ivory tower" allusion in the UP community dates back to the challenge set in the 1950's by UP College of Agriculture Dean Dioscoro Umali who encouraged the faculty to apply their expertise on actual problems experienced in the countryside. This challenge led to UPCA's golden age of extension during Dr. Umali's term.

CUPSCon1 covered various topics such as community-engaged teaching and learning, institutionalization of community engagement and public service, knowledge-driven volunteerism, community engagement and public service; and university-industry linkages and engagements. 

Conference Keynote

UP Diliman CSSP Dean Dr. Grace Aguiling-Dalisay
Photo: UPLB Research and Extension
Participants of the conference were formally welcomed by UPOU Chancellor Grace  Alfonso followed by a video message from UP President Alfredo Pascual. Pres. Pascual noted that UP’s strong commitment to academic advancement and public service have started long before the enactment of the UP Charter (RA 9500). He also enjoined attending HEIs to participate in next year’s AsiaEngage Conference.

First to address the conference plenary was UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) Dean Dr. Grace H. Aguiling-Dalisay who delivered the conference’s keynote talk entitled “Public Service in Higher Education: Why it Matters.” Dean Dalisay is an expert in developmental psychology, volunteering and civic participation, and sikolohiyang Pilipino

Dr. Dalisay emphasized the importance of engagement in the context of public service and said "what matters is that we constantly think of how we can contribute as a university." As an example, she noted the existence of public service initiatives in the top universities – UP, La Salle, Ateneo and UST, although varying in name and formation. 

The CSSP dean also mentioned that “volunteering is not the only form of public service, but it is an important form.” She added that volunteer programs are important pathways in advancing the goal of higher education and “regardless of academic field, there is a room for volunteering.” Recognizing this, CSSP is reviving UP Diliman’s Ugnayan ng Pahinungod at the college-level through Ugnayan ng Pahinungod – CSSP. Dean Dalisay previously served as the UP Diliman and UP System Pahinungod coordinator.

Dalisay also called for a collaboration on the revival of UPOU’s online volunteer service management course, as well as the increased support and consideration of academic leaders in encouraging and rewarding faculty engagement to public service. 

Genetics and Forensics

Mr. Frederick Delfin of UP NSRI-DAL
Photo: UPLB Research and Extension
A team from the UP Natural Sciences Research Institute-DNA Analysis Laboratory (UP NSRI-DAL; http://www.dnaforensic.org/) presented four talks on a session solely dedicated to public service through forensic genetics. According to Mr. Frederick Delfin, “the panel allows [DAL] to bring genetics closer to the lay people”.  

The topics covered in the panel include UP NSRI-DAL’s efforts on Filipino population genetics research; the cost-effective Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAIK) developed by the laboratory; its Bone DNA Workshops for Human Remains Identification; and its goal of making forensic DNA analysis more relevant in the country. 

As Mr. Delfin presented highlights of the study done with various ethno-linguistic group communities, he emphasized that free, prior and informed consent is necessary since there is a need to protect the rights of volunteer participants, especially indigenous people. To address this, DAL produced laymanized instruction materials; collaborated with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), local government units and HEIs; and developed an iterative process wherein the researchers and the results are made available to the volunteers and the communities. Genetic research of the Filipino population has implications in anthropology, forensics and medicine. 

L to R: Ms. Miriam Dalet; Ms. Nelvie Soliven and
Mr. Frederick Delfin Photo: UPLB Research and Extension
Moreover, both presentations on the SAIK and human remains identification delivered by Ms. Nelvie Soliven and Angelica Sagum highlighted the value of DNA evidence and analysis on the resolution of cases, and the emotional recovery of survivors and their families. Aside from its partnership with the Child Protection Unit Network and a courier service, DAL has also expressed its intentions of increasing the availability of the SAIK to different government hospitals across the country. 

On the other hand, Ms. Miriam Ruth Dalet expressed DAL’s concern on the understanding of lawyers, judges and other stakeholders on DNA analysis and the legal significance of test results. Hence, widespread advocacy for the use of forensic DNA analysis is needed. 

Aside from providing quality DNA testing and analysis to the courts, the laboratory provides seminars and workshops to DNA analysts and various stakeholders. UP NSRI-DAL has also collaborated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Justice and the Philippine Judicial Academy. It is also part of the Innocence Project Philippines Network which deals with post-conviction DNA testing for the exoneration of the wrongfully convicted; and DNA Prokids, an international network of forensic DNA laboratories which fights human trafficking. DAL is also instrumental in the formulation of the “Rules on DNA Evidence in Court” in 2007 which fills some gaps of the absence of a DNA legislation. 

Health Promotion 

Rufus Adducul delivering his talk entitled
"Mobilizing the Youth for Health: The UP Manila experience
in organizing a National Volunteer Youth Leader Network,,
VYLH-Philippines" Photo: VYLH-Philippines
VYLH-Philippines NCR-South Luzon Coordinator and GeneSoc alumnus Rufus Thomas Adducul gave a talk on the experience of the Institute of Human Genetics– National Institutes of Health (IHG-NIH; http://ihg.upm.edu.ph/), UP Manila in organizing a national volunteer youth leaders network – the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health (VYLH)-Philippines. The presentation focused on the establishment and the achievements of the network and its volunteers. It provides an example on how the academe can partner with a youth organization and the youth, in general, for advocacy work. 

VYLH-Philippines was established in order to address the call of the March of Dimes – Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH) in engaging the youth and young professionals on volunteer public health and GNMIH activities. Founded in 2009, VYLH-Philippines was formed through the collaboration between IHG-NIH, the Department of Health and The UPLB Genetics Society. 

Adducul noted that VYLH-Philippines flagship advocacies on promoting folic acid awareness, prematurity awareness, newborn screening and lobbying public support for rare disease patients were chosen and adopted by the network since these are pro-active, preventive and progressive interventions which address the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health (MDG 4 and 5).  Likewise, he mentioned that there is no similar youth organization in the country which focuses to these advocacies. 

IHG-NIH is the largest provider of genetic services in the country and it is continuously involved in research, advocacy and policy recommendations. The proof of IHG-NIH’s efforts on research which translated into a policy is the Newborn Screening (NBS) Program institutionalized by the the NBS Act of 2004 (RA9288). Since the 13th Congress, IHG has also been involved in drafting a bill for the care and welfare of Filipino rare disease patients - the Rare Disease Act. At present, the bill has already reached Senate deliberations after gaining the concurrence of the House of Representatives last August.

The UP Manila Community Health Development Program (CHDP) and UP Manila’s Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity also participated in the conference. UP Manila CHDP Director Dr. Anthony Cordero presented UP Manila's partnership with local government units (LGUs) and the people of the community through the CHDP. The CHDP is participated by colleges in UP Manila, some UP Diliman colleges and some departments and sections of the Philippine General Hospital. It aims to provide learning opportunities for UP faculty members and students on the principles and practice of community health and development. The CHDP has partnered with the LGU of San Juan Batangas (2007-2013), the Provincial Government of Cavite and the AMIGA (Alfonso, Mendez, Indang, General Emilio Aguinaldo and Amadeo) Inter-LGU Council (2013-present). On the other hand, UP Manila's Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity presented their health volunteers’ training initiatives in collaboration with Gawad Kalusugan, the official health services arm of Gawad Kalinga (GK) villages. Mu Sigma Phi piloted their work at GK Sta. Rita in Las Piñas. 

UP Manila speakers and delegates from IHG-NIH, College of Allied Medical Professions,
College of Dentistry and College of Medicine participating in the parallel session on
Health and Wellness Programs together with UP System Vice President for
Public Affairs Prospero de Vera III. Photo: VYLH-Philippines

Other CUPSCon Sessions 

Aside from public service through forensic genetics and health promotion, CUPSCon Luzon featured 16 other parallel sessions which include sector-based service learning; education, literacy and training; community development through geography and geodesy; climate change and environmental protection; development communication and media literacy; service learning through the National Service Training Program (NSTP); community nutrition;higher education public service; water and sanitation programs; and community empowerment through livelihood and entrepreneurship training.

In the evening of the first day, UPLB hosted a welcome dinner for the participants at the Senior Social Garden wherein some participants shared their insights and testimonies. 

For the second day of the conference, plenary talks on institutionalizing public service were given by UP Vice President for Public Affairs Dr. Prospero de Vera III, UPLB Chancellor Dr. Fernando Sanchez and UPLB Graduate School Dean Dr. Jose Camacho Jr. The conference concluded with the closing remarks given by UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod Director Katrina Ross Tan.

CUPSCon was made possible through the support of the Office of the President, and Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs of UP, the Office of the Chancellor of UP Los Baños (UPLB), the Office of the Chancellor of the UP Open University (UPOU), and organized through the cooperation of the UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, UPLB Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension, UP Manila Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, UP Diliman Office of Extension Coordination, UP Baguio Office of Public Affairs, the System Committee on Public Service Monitoring and Reporting, and the University of the Philippines Padayon Public Service Office.#