By Christine Joy Sarmiento
Google his name and you will find thousands of entries quoting him as a source. Whether it is about earthquakes, volcanoes or floods, most news reporters always run to him to ask about geological processes happening in our country. He might be the next most trusted man when it comes to earth processes here in the Philippines next to the late Dr. Raymundo Punongbayan, former director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
A certified Iskolar ng Bayan, this professor studied in the University of the Philippines from pre-school up to his Master’s program. Earning his PhD in Earth Sciences in the University of Cambridge, Dr. Alfredo Mahar Francisco A. Lagmay is now one of the highly-commended and most trusted geologists and volcanologists, not only here in the Philippines, but in other countries as well.
At first, Lagmay was far from proceeding into the field of geology. When he was still undecided on which course to take in college, Lagmay was invited by his friend and UP Integrated School classmate, Mark Encarnacion, to take geology as an option. Mark’s brother, John Encarnacion was teaching in the Department of Geology and Geography at the time.
Back then, Lagmay was unsure if he was really going to choose Geology. But he just found himself writing Geology as his first choice in the UPCAT application form.
“I didn’t know any better back then. I just went ahead.”
When he was young, Lagmay was fond of looking at rocks found in their backyard in their residence in Bgy. UP Campus and seemed to want to know where these rocks came from. Eventually, he discovered that all those rocks came from volcanoes nearby, most of them from Laguna de Bay and Taal. In a recent study he conducted, he found that there were at least four explosive eruptions that contributed to the placement of what’s underneath UP Diliman and Quezon City. “The nearest eruptions came from Laguna de Bay and these probably happened a million years ago.”
Dr. Lagmay is fond of his profession. He treats hazards of his job as objects of wonder.
“It’s exciting. I want adventure. I want to go out. I enjoy seeing volcanoes erupt, especially outpouring of lava at night time,” Lagmay said. “Very magnificent. Very awesome. Breathtaking. You will be exhilarated, seeing the power of nature.”
He even shared that he had screamed every 30 seconds when he witnessed the lava oozing out of Etna volcano.
One of the perks of being a geologist is going to places most people would not normally go. If you want to balance office work and field work, geology is the job for you. Dr. Lagmay said, “I went to Kamchatka, Russia, [where] they have wide open fields and where the biggest bears in the world are found. Communication is absent in this place and riding the helicopter is the only way you can go there.”
A funny memory from Dr. Lagmay’s escapades includes this one time when they were on a field where no public toilets were available nearby. So he asked a local where he could release wastes in the area. The local pointed to a place and gave him a stick. He wondered what the stick was for but went ahead and did what he had to do. A few moments later, three hungry pigs approached him. That was when he understood the purpose of the stick.
When he went to Pinatubo, Lagmay saw a white-haired and white-bearded guy; a throng of media people surrounded him during the eruption of Pinatubo. He wondered who this guy was.
“He was very impressive. He looked and sounded like,an authority on volcanoes” he said. So when he started working for his PhD after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, inspired by that man he saw, Lagmay decided to concentrate on volcanology.
Dr. Lagmay specializes on volcanology, which takes a look at structures of faults underneath the volcanoes among other things. He studies how these faults impact the evolution and origin of volcanoes. He delved into the idea on the reciprocal influence between fault movement and the growth and evolution of volcanoes.
Lagmay’s journal articles have been cited not only here in the Philippines, but also abroad. His favorite is the citation of his work on Martian research. One of his projects won the national competition for Outstanding and Advanced Science and Technological Research and Development.
The Philippines has between 200 to 300 volcanoes, depending on how you classify them. However, our country has only less than 10 volcanologists with a Ph.D. degree. It is also the same for other fields of specialization in geology. The Philippines has a fault that stretches for about 1,400 km. Considering that our country is visited by a lot of geologically-related catastrophes, he felt the growing need for scientists in his field. “When you go to disaster-stricken areas, you will see that they need help. The community needs help.”, he said.
Since UP opened a lot of opportunities for him, starting from pre-school up to the present, all for a small monetary price, he wants to give back the service to his countrymen.
“My entire education up to the PhD level was for only less than PhP10,000.”, he said.
Although there were job offers from abroad, Lagmay decided to reject them and decided to stay to serve his countrymen. Though the reward is not monetary, he said the experience is rewarding.
“When you see your students smile, you see that you have contributed in a place where you came from and where you are needed. Life has a purpose and goes beyond raising a family or being able to provide for them.”
Dr. Lagmay is starting to build a name in the industry. More news reports have been published citing his name as a source. When asked about how he felt about all these, he said, “Anybody would feel good that their work is being recognized and it would probably be more gratifying if the ideas are converted into something useful, like a guide in drafting policies in the government.”
He recently delivered a presentation to PLDT chairman Manny Pangilinan, suggesting the installation of rain gauges in cell cites of Smart Communications, Globe Telecoms and Digitel Telecommunications Philippines (Sun Cellular).
According to Dr. Lagmay, prevention and mitigation is very important, especially for rain-related disasters. Like what happened during the course of Ondoy, most areas were taken by surprise. He suggests that there should be deployment of automated rain gauges and production of accurate topography. These are needed to be able to create an indicative map of flood prone areas. He aims for it to be available to everyone so that nobody will be taken by surprise again.
Students from the Geology Department say that Dr.Lagmay is one of the best instructors in the National Institute of Geological Sciences under the College of Science. In his Natural Science 2 classes, he treats students as mature people. According to him, students’ parents paid for their tuition so it is up to the students whether to attend the class or not. He just tries to make the class as interesting as possible.
“I call it a show because around 150 students are in a session so it is like I am having a concert. It helps to share your experiences and to add humor while story-telling,” he said.
Dr. Lagmay said life isn’t all about money. His personality reflects his love for his family. His typical day includes, “I wake up. I see my daughter open her eyes. I smile back, [open a] book and read her a story. She likes me reading her stories. Then I play with her a few minutes. My wife is still asleep. I go out; I give her to the baby sitter. I eat breakfast, take a bath and kiss my wife goodbye. I kiss my daughter goodbye. I go to work until 5. After 5, I drive back home. And back home, I work again if there are things that that were not attended to during the day. At the end of the week, especially on a Friday, I see to it that I have dinner out with my wife. At least once a week, we watch a movie.”
Dr. Lagmay believes that he is a conduit of the past and the future. “I want my genes to live on”, he said. He wants to be able to contribute to society in his own little way by generating knowledge and sharing them so the future can be a better place.
The truth behind the myth
By Christine Joy Sarmiento
The University of the Philippines (UP) Sunken Garden now has a Facebook fan page. Having more than 11,000 fans and growing it has already gained popularity not only among UP students, but also among visitors interested with the landmark.
Formerly called the General del Pilar Parade grounds, the “wide, level, grass-covered expanse” behind the Main Library is part of UP’s culture and history.
As to how it got the name Sunken Garden, historians say it is because of its basin shape. Others believe that a fault line beneath the parade grounds causes it to sink at around two inches every year. But, is this phenomenon scientifically proven? Geologists, geodetic engineers and even campus architects say otherwise.
Architect Ringer Manalang of the UP Office of the Campus Architect showed pictures of the first decades of UP Diliman. During that time, a stream of water flowed from the Sunken Garden up to what is now Philcoa. He said the presence of water might have caused the depression in the area.
But as to whether or not the garden continues to sink, two topographic maps of UP dated 1960 and 1988 showed that its elevation remained constant at 65 meters above sea level. However, Manalang said the area is yet to be measured since the latest map OCA has is more than 20 years old.
Furthermore, Dr. Eric Paringit, chairman of the UP Department of Geodetic Engineering, said their department had never conducted a study to check the accuracy of the alleged “sinking” of the grass field.
He added that some people might have just imitated the urban legend at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Paringit said there is a big library in MIT and because more books are added to its collection yearly the library “sinks.” He assumed that since the UP Main Library stood beside the Sunken Garden, people adopted the same legend for the parade grounds.
On the other hand Engr. Louie Balicanta also from the GE Department gave the legend the benefit of the doubt. He said the issue is inconclusive because there are no numbers, no research conducted proving or refuting the belief.
On the issue of a fault line beneath the Sunken Garden, Dr. Mahar Lagmay of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS), said their studies revealed “trenches” over the sewer system of the campus.
Studies of UP topography showed that the main depressions are located at the rear of the NIGS building all the way to the Sampaguita Residence Hall, the UP Integrated School, down to the National Institute of Physics, branching near the former Narra Residence Hall. Dr. Lagmay said the structures are connected to the Marikina Fault Line.
Dr. Lagmay backed architect Manalang’s observation saying the water system that used to flow in the area caused the depression. The creek or brook ran from what is now the Vinzon’s Hall and Katipunan Avenue down to the present-day Vargas Museum and finally the river channel near Philcoa. This created a U-shaped channel from the Sunken Garden to the UP amphitheater area.
No matter the origin, the Sunken Garden remains an important part of students' cultural experience. UP fairs, rallies, sports fests and daily “peaceful and not-so-peaceful frolicking and tambay” all happen in the area.