UP’s plant-man extraordinaire

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For a combination of inventiveness, diligence, and genius, Leonard Co turns out to be a gem which brings gladness and admiration to those who know him. The state university’s unique botanist is a rarity who rivals the reclusiveness of Rafflesia leonardi, a diffident flower in the hinterlands of Kidapawan, Mindanao named after him. Leonard Co is known to many Ibalonians for good reasons.

Lorna Vigil and Annelee Badiola-Lojo. M.D. remember him as a co- member of Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral sa Pilipino (SAMAPIL,) a socio-cultural organization in the UP campus. Ibalon doctors like Arnel V. Malaya, Julius A. Lecciones, Ray R. G. Rayel, Nestor A. Valenciano, Andy Gimpaya, and many others may have striking memories of the amazing guy of Botany who frequented the Science pavilion. Leonard was there to beguile them of his plants. A likeable personality with a prodigious drive to teach, the smart Leonard immersed himself in the world of the flora, his pure love and abiding source of satisfaction.

“The Last Dodo of Botany”
by Lorna Vigil

Leonard L. Co inspires many who know him. More than three decades after I met him the first and only time, when I was a young freshman, he still has this extraordinary liking for plants. No one doubted his expertise in botany, though in UP, for him, other subjects outside botany were irritations; they stood on the way of his focus. With a passion for nature and stubborn insistence to pursue science in his own terms, it took him 32 years to get his BS diploma —a proof of his real mettle and purpose.

Diliman’s plant-man extraordinaire has brought some of life’s important lessons —- the most compelling perhaps is that outstanding men like him do persist and prevail. Ignoring physics and math, Leonard’s unusual years of study has gained him recognition more than he could imagine. A phenomenal gift of our school to science, his ability is now at work in the Conservation International and the UP Herbarium. With much to share, here is what he said that I find very interesting:

O nga pala, nakalimutan kong magpakilala aside doon sa organizational affiliations ko,” says Leonard whose school ID goes back few decades ago: 72-00993, BS Botany.

Bilang the quintessential ‘Bobo ng Diliman’ who refused to let physics and math mess up with my own brand of education, ngayong taon lang ako grumadweyt. I’m the last dodo bird of the now extinct BS Botany program.”

Naging myembro ng SAMAPIL noong huling dako ng 1973, dahil sa personal appeal nito sa akin bilang kanlungan ng kritikal pero malikhaing porma ng dissent. Naively, inassume ko na pwede rin akong mahawa sa abilidad ng mga manunulat na kasapi dito.

Well, obviously hindi sapat yun and I ended up doing something else in botany and conservation science. At any rate, SAMAPIL ang unang legal na organisasyong sinalihan ko sa UP matapos ibaba ang martial law.

Palagay ko’y ipinanganak din akong artist, pero ang medium na kadalasang ginagamit ko ay oil— cooking oil to be exact. Mahilig akong magluto (at kumain). Aside from plant specimens, I collect all sorts of protest and national liberation songs (banyaga man o dito sa Pinas, at salamat sa limewire, dumarami na ang acquisitions ko).

‘Di ako marunong bumasa ng nota, pero natutunan kong tumugtog ng oido sa harmonica (nakakainis nga lamang at ine-equate ang instrumentong ito sa pamumulubi). Inggit to death ako pag nakakakita ng mga virtuoso sa classical guitar, piano at violin.

Pasensya na po kung di ako nakakasali sa inter-aksyon ninyo sa e-group o mga jammings. Madalas kasi sa hindi, andun ako sa natural habitat ko sa mga bundok at natitira pa nating kagubatan. Pero keep in touch at tuloy lang ang pagpapadala ng mga jokes na mahirap ipagwari sa katatawanan at realidad ng buhay.

Masaya ako dahil nabigyang halaga ang aking kaunting kontribusyon sa Botany na naging pangunahing argumento ng mga supporters ko sa Institute of Biology, sa College Assembly hanggang University Council para magawaran ng UP diploma nung nakaraang graduation (2008). Kahit man lolo na akong uugud-ugod nabigyan na rin ng BS (after 32 years haha!). O ano, astig na rin akong UP grad tulad ninyo!—Leonard L. Co, Conservation International- Philippines; Herbarium, Institute of Biology, College of Science, University of the Philippines. (Photo Credits: Josefontheroad; JulieBarcelona)=0=

RELATED BLOG: “Pygmy tarsier of Indonesia rediscovered after 85 years & a five-petalled mountain flower in Mindanao, Philippines named” Posted by mesiamd at 11/23/2008

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