Filipino scientists call for immediate action on climate change

Students, advocates and allies have formed the Association of Filipino Scientists in America.

By Sero Toriano Parel and Carla Bertulfo

On December 7, Filipino scientists, science advocates, and allies gathered at Columbia University to learn about the effects of climate change in the Philippines as well as Palestine.

This occasion marked the inaugural event of the newly formed Association of Filipino Scientists in America (AFSA). The theme of the event was “Environmental Rights Are Human Rights” to commemorate the International Human Rights Day on December 10.

The event was AFSA’s first seminar featuring speakers Myla Ramirez, an environmental health researcher at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; Carla Bertulfo, a Ph.D. Biological Sciences student at Columbia University; and Gemma Sahwell, an Environmental Science graduate from Barnard College.

Ramirez set the tone by breaking down the science behind climate change. She highlighted that low- and middle-income countries, such as the Philippines, are likely to feel the impact of climate change. She highlighted how policy, advocacy, and activism can create “meaningful and lasting change” in the campaign against environmental disaster.

Bertulfo discussed the link between climate change and human rights, emphasizing how in the Philippines, government programs involving privatization, displacement of indigenous people, and military action against those who protest “is driven by vested interests” and is not beneficial to the environment.

Sahwell, a Cuban-Palestinian who is a member of Columbia’s Students for Justice in Palestine, linked the situation in the Philippines to other places, such as Palestine. She expanded the understanding of environmental rights to include land dispossession and environmental racism carried out by the local elite and foreign powers.

Typhoon Tisoy

Recently, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Tisoy which displaced over 200,000 families in the Bicol region, according to the Philippines’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council). A series of earthquakes also hit Mindanao that affected thousands of families. The Philippines has an average of 20 typhoons annually and has been experiencing earthquakes, but in the past decade it has been frequently hit by extreme weather, underscoring how vulnerable the country is to the impacts of climate change. 

From the October 26 interest meeting (top photo), AFSA organized its first seminar on climate change on December 7 at Columbia University.

Data from the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows the country’s forest cover — or the primary defense against these natural calamities — is losing 47,000 hectares every year and down to less than 24 percent of the original forest cover in the 1900s.

Advocates are pushing for genuine changes in government policies to protect the environment but the response has been continued degradation through the government’s support for large-scale mining, logging and developmental schemes. Projects, such as the Kaliwa Dam in Quezon, New Clark City in Pampanga, and mining operations in Davao, will not only destroy ecosystems but will displace indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.

Thus, AFSA calls for policies that would truly protect the environment in the Philippines, Palestine, and other countries where there is continued extraction of resources by the local elite and foreign countries who are the perpetrators of human rights violations. 

Filipino scientists organize

With the environmental and health-related issues happening in the Philippines, Filipino scientists from New York and New Jersey saw the need to organize AFSA into a network of scientists in the U.S. that seeks to utilize the members’ collective experiences, expertise and resources in support of the Filipino community. From the 11 individuals who came to AFSA’s interest meeting on October 26, 2019, it now has more than 50 members! Some of the pioneers are Sero Toriano Parel, a Ph.D. student of Neuroscience at Princeton University; and Mary Lou de Jesus, who is studying Biochemistry and Public Health at Columbia University.

Parel’s area of research is how stress in early life produces molecular changes in key areas of the brain and how these changes contribute to a person’s development in adulthood.

“My long-term goal is to integrate rigorous neuroscience research and militant activism, from understanding the basic science of mental health and illness, to mobilizing science and technology that genuinely serve the most oppressed and exploited communities in the Philippines and across the world,” Parel said. 

De Jesus – who is also the treasurer of Liga Filipina organization at Columbia – has performed research at Weill Cornell Medical College in the Urologic Oncology department. After her participation in Weill Cornell’s Youth Scholars Program, she realized that her long-term aspiration is to become a physician, using her passion for activism in both global health and marginalized communities.

Sero Toriano Parel is a PhD student in neuroscience at Princeton University and a founding member of the Association for Filipino Scientists in America. They can be reached at and 

Carla Bertulfo is a PhD Biological Sciences student at Columbia University and a founding member of the Association for Filipino Scientists in America. She can be reached at and

If you want to join a network of Filipinos working or studying STEM, psychology, social sciences or other related fields, feel free to contact AFSA through:


Facebook page:  Association of Filipino Students in America

Instagram: @afsa.official

Twitter: @AFSAofficial

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