Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Christian workman

Walk this way

Recently I've attended two career talks that have profoundly affected the way I view the real world—and by that, I mean the sphere of human existence outside the University.

The first was sponsored by Dormitories Christian Fellowship, and the second, by the Diliman Campus Bible Church.

What occurred to me—and I'm speaking for the rest of us who attended—is that the life outside is harder. The workplace is not merely a chair and a desk—it is a battlefield where the forces of darkness and light operate. The Christian worker, therefore, must be armed in this daily spiritual battle. This reminder rings true especially now where making a stand for Christ is harder than ever.

The lives of the panelists I met during these talks are a testament to God's unfailing goodness. These are people who have kept the Lord always before them and have determined—no matter how imperfectly—to do all for His glory.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


poster presentation

The day of the dreaded poster presentation wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. Senior professors, other MBB undergrads, some visitors and friends trooped to our posters to see what we've been working on for the past two sems. If they were curious enough, they asked us to explain what we did.

The feeling is more of relief than fulfillment. In my case, there's so much to be done. It's back to the real world lab tomorrow, but aren't we all glad that it's over—at least, for now?

(HT: Johanna Poblete for the photo)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Making the cut


"Congratulations," read the text message. I didn't know what that was for. When I came to Albert Hall later that day, people were congratulatory. Apparently some news broke out that I didn't know about.

I made it to the UP College of Medicine.

Like any life-changing moment, it didn't sink in on me immediately. It was only the morning after—that very moment when I lifted myself from the bed—that I realized, "I'm going to be a doctor."

For the first time, I can now give a definite answer to friends who ask me what I'd do after graduation. And I'm thankful because many of my classmates made it, too.

Again, this is because of grace. If I say I made it on my own, that would be hypocrisy, for it was the Lord who helped me write the answers in the NMAT, gave me good grades, and convicted my heart to say what needed to be said during the interview process.

Sadly some friends didn't quite make it to the cut. But like I told them, I was blessed by their reaction towards the situation. They didn't grumble or curse, but took it all humbly, in contemplative silence. Their hearts must be pierced with pangs of pain, their minds beset with questions of "what went wrong"? I encouraged them that things happen for a purpose, and until now, I still pray that the Lord guide them through these hard times.

But with the prospect of a thesis manuscript due two weeks from now, medical school is so far off the horizon. It's always one step at a time. We'll get there.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

A reason to smile

Because there are a gazillion reasons to smile

The previous week is going to go down in history as one of the most stressful times in my undergrad life. My experiments weren't working, my mice weren't getting any pregnant, and I had absolutely nothing to write for my thesis.

I'd be in the lab until the wee hours of the morning, monitoring my experiments or figuring out what went wrong. They say troubleshooting is the fun part of the scientific process, but one does get an overdose of it—and the feeling isn't so good.

So it's a miracle that I could still smile during those times. But more than the external grin, I had peace. I remember a letter I wrote to a friend,
"I'm resigned to the fact that whatever happens, God will be in control. That's really something that I realized these past few days. The wonderful doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Siguro that's one great thing that separates us, Christians, from others. We don't wallow in helplessness because we know that, ultimately, all things will work out for our good—and God's glory."
I think, more than anything, that the reaction was more of a supernatural outworking rather than a personality tendency.

So now, I have something to present for tomorrow's poster presentation, our Institute's version of a thesis defense. Do come anytime tomorrow, March 16, at Albert Hall, University of the Philippines Diliman and check out all the research we did.


Monday, March 9, 2009


I had the privilege of speaking to the graduating residents of Yakal Residence Hall on March 9, 2009 during the Parangal. I gave this speech.


The feeling is almost surreal. To finally graduate from a University I've practically called my home for the past five years and the events that have led to such a culmination are something I could not—and probably never will—understand completely.

Like all of you, I started as a wide-eyed freshman, fresh from the province, about to enter a school starkly different from what I had been used to. UP then was a distant, impersonal idea. I had various impressions about it, mostly those formed from my older brother's personal accounts of his jeepney rides around campus, his famous classmates, his brilliant professors, and his newfound friends hailing from different parts of the country.

Now, five years later, those impressions have become real to me—so real, in fact, that they have been integrated, figuratively speaking, into my genome. If, for example, I compare myself to who I had been five years ago, the changes are staggering. And I'm not just talking about the physical, but more so the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of my being.

You simply don't go to UP and not be changed—and the change is usually for the better.

Graduation, then, is a celebration of our individual transformations. Clearly the process did not happen overnight. We had to go through many experiences—some were very exciting that we want to relive them again, and yet some were so bad we'd rather forget them.

Interestingly, in molecular biology, we do these so-called transformation experiments. I hope I don't cause massive blood loss at this point in time because, when you think about it, the principle is really simple. For example, you have a cell, and you want to give it a unique characteristic—say, you want to make it glow in the dark. What you do is give that cell a glow-in-the-dark gene.

But it's not as easy as it sounds. For transformation to occur, these requirements must be satisfied. There have to be (1) the right gene (2) the right medium, (3) the right timing, (4) the right temperature, and (5) the right person to do it.

The right gene must be chosen. It has to be the gene for the glow-in-the-dark characteristic, not a gene for anything else. Genes are a lot like a person's character—they form one's identity. My point is that our years in UP have been opportunities to form our character. We had the chance to choose who we'd truly become. I hope we made the right choices.

The second requirement is the right medium. A cell in a tube is a cell that is away from its natural home. To survive, it needs the right environment that mimics its natural surroundings. In this sense, we are a lot like cells. We, too, are away from our homes, and we live in a dorm—the best there is—a temporary abode that is like our home but not exactly like it.

Like many of us, I was initiated into dorm life way back in Kalayaan on my first year and transferred to Yakal on my second. I have lived here ever since. I am practically an institution. Yakal has been a home away from home, and in a sense, I was able to withstand so much of the pressures of academic life because I've lived here. I've met wonderful people and developed friendships that, I hope, would last a lifetime. Our environment affects us tremendously, and Yakal had a positive effect on me. The fact that we've undergone pains in renewing our dorm admission only signifies one thing: Yakal is the place to be.

Perfect timing is crucial for transformation to proceed. The cell can't be forced to take up the glow-in-the-dark gene at an instant. In the same manner, our UP experience has taught us that some lessons are far better learned after some time. In this, we need to be patient, for things don't come immediately. For instance, it took us four years or more to be sufficiently trained in our disciplines—there are no shortcuts. I guess the same is true with real life.

The right temperature is also crucial. At extreme temperatures, the cell may not survive the transformation process. In the same manner, we must temper our ambitions with humility. I had great hopes for myself when I first entered the University, but I was humbled when I realized there will always be greater persons than me. Humility is a correct understanding of one's self, and we must always strive to be humble people. Humility does wonders. It makes one see his need of God and of others. After we graduate, let us not be consumed with our passions for personal glory, but let us be steadfast in knowing we can only do so much. Only by doing so can we truly accomplish anything worthwhile.

Finally, the last requirement for a successful transformation experiment is the right person to do it. The experiment requires a high degree of skill and experience, and it cannot be given to the hands of the untrained. As a Christian, I believe that nothing happens by chance. Everything is under the control of God. It is my firm conviction—and I hope it will be yours, too—that who I am now and who I will become, I owe to God Himself. Trust in Him. Commit your life, your dreams, your ambitions, your worries in His hands. He is not some mad scientist who experiments for the sake of doing it. His aim is the good of His children and the glory of His name.

I mentioned that graduation is a celebration of our individual transformations. I also think that, above all, it is a celebration of the grace of our Transformer, God Himself, for where would we be, without Him?
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name, give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.”


Thursday, March 5, 2009

About Me

Updated 30 November 2009.


1. I'm a born again, evangelical Christian. I believe that man is a sinner, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I believe in the inerrancy, sufficiency, and supremacy of Scripture in all matters pertaining to faith, life, and holiness.

2. Before I took up Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, I was an English major. Call it a leap into the void, but I'm glad it turned out for the better. Now I'm now a first-year medical student at the UP College of Medicine where I study a moldy, obese cadaver I lovingly call Big Bertha.

3. I was born and raised in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, where the stars shine more brightly.

4. Once in high school, I traveled from South Cotabato to Baguio. Alone.

5. I grab every opportunity of talking to wise, old, godly people. I often wish I were older. Then, I'd make wiser decisions, formulate sounder judgments, and give better advice.

6. I have two other brothers; I'm the second-born. Ralph (whom I call Manong, the Tagalog equivalent of the less personal "kuya") is a law student. Our youngest, Sean, is taking up dentistry. We have the same nose shape—although mine is arguably wider.

7. I can't study with music in the background, save for a few songs on my playlist. My favorite songs include In Christ Alone (Travis Cottrell), O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, Before The Throne Of God Above, and Great Is Thy Faithfulness—mostly old hymns that capture timeless truths about and unwavering devotion to the Lord. I'd love to have these sung in my funeral.

8. Julio at Julia (Kambal ng Tadhana) is—and always will be—my favorite cartoon show. I can even sing the opening song.

9. I have a knack for languages. But ask me point-blank what 36 minus 12 is, and it may take me a while before I give a decent answer. Which is not to say I hate math: I love calculus, not arithmetic.

10. I walk. Really fast.

11. I read a lot. If I don't like the book—or if it's hard reading for me—I'd start with a new one. But I always finish what I started. To have truly read a book is to have read it from cover to cover.

12. It takes a while before I'd get mad, and when I do, it takes a really short time for the anger to simmer.

13. Looks can be deceiving because, although I look emaciated, I devour at least two cups of rice in one sitting. Food has never tasted this good.

14. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn't a sweet child. I was a bully. I kicked my cousin while we were climbing the slide. She got convulsions thereafter. I got away with what I did because I was able to convince her that it was her fault, not mine.

15. In class, I talk to my seatmate to keep myself awake.

16. I like photography, writing, and looking for and at interesting websites.

17. It unnerves me to hear a dangling question left unanswered in thin air.

18. People think I look like my father, my mother, my brothers, Boy Abunda, and Mahatma Gandhi.

19. I'm amazed at how the brain works. It's a wonderful area of research. I used to work on neural cell cultures where I grew brain cells on plastic plates. I killed a lot of mice in the process.

20. My vocabulary expands when I'm nervous. If I start using big words, it's a sign that I'm grappling for right words to say. Or, I may not be sure of what I'm talking about.

21. I take criticism—no matter how small—to heart, and I'm thankful for the people who sincerely offer them, even during times when they're uncalled for.

22. My favorite passage is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

23. For me, prolonged idleness is harder to bear than a jampacked schedule.

24. I use Linux Ubuntu which is, by far, a gazillion times better than Windows. No viruses and absolutely free.

25. The fear of the Lord and humility are two characteristics that I admire and draw me most to a person. I pray that God grant me more of these, too.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The long road ahead

On the Road

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10


Monday, March 2, 2009

Sun Tzu's The Art of War: how to win wars and sound profound at the same time

I spent my idle hours reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military treatise written during the 6th century BC. My copy is the 1910 English translation of Lionel Giles and edited by the novelist James Clavell.

The book, divided into 13 chapters, gives overview of the fundamentals of war (free access here). Sun Tzu makes sure that the reader understands that wars must be fought and fought well—not with caprice, but with definite plans. Clearly, each page is packed with wisdom and insight from the ancient Chinese warrior—many, if not all of which, still apply today.

Sun Tzu says:
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him when he is unprepared, appear when you are not expected.

Sun Tzu gives guidelines on the use of tactics, explains when to attack and when to flee, expounds the importance of using spies, and emphasizes the value of good military leadership and obedience.

I'm not sure if the Philippine Military Academy requires their students to read The Art of War. If not, then they're missing a lot.

Reading the book is a lot like watching Crouching tiger, Hidden Dragon for me, or those Chinese films where they practically fly when they jump. Staggering.