On the day of the interview, merely a month and a week had passed since Dr. Marieta Bañez Sumagaysay assumed the post of Executive Director for the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) on November 9, 2015. Right away, she buckled down to work and started learning everything there is to learn about the Council.

“The timing is such that I don’t really have that space even to look at my room and put some things,” she related, waving her arm around her office room to stress her point.  “My glass and my cup, I only bought last week, because I don’t have time because of the budget hearing, the planning, the anniversary of NRCP.”

She is happy with what she sees though. “Everybody’s working. There are a lot of ideas around, I see it. My challenge is to catch up with them, give the directions,” she admitted,“otherwise, the energies will be lost.”

Bundle of energy

The woman who has to do the catching up is herself full of energy.

She is a member of 11 professional organizations including NRCP of which she has been a member for more than 10 years. In fact, she is the current president of NRCP-Visayas Regional Cluster. She is also president of the National Network on Women in Fisheries of the Philippines and secretary of the Women’s Studies Association of the Philippines.

Her brilliant career includes 34 years of teaching experience, specifically as Economics Professor 9 at UP Visayas Tacloban College where she later became Dean from 2000-2006 – a remarkable record for somebody who initially shunned economics and the world of teaching and instead wanted to become an accountant.

Dr. Sumagaysay likewise held various other administrative positions at this time – as division chair, coordinator for the research office and the alumni office. Later, she also served as director of the Leyte Samar Heritage Center in UP Tacloban.

Also under her belt are several years of active involvement in research work. Dr. Sumagaysay has published several research findings, read papers in national and international conferences, and managed numerous researches either as consultant or study leader.

Lately, her research has been focused on gender, women, and labor force participation especially in coastal and fishing communities. In particular, she has done research on women in seaweed farming, rice farming, fishing, and other small enterprises.

She revealed to S&T Post that she targets starting at least one research a year and traveling abroad to read a paper at least once a year as well – targets which she has been meeting consistently.

So what is it about research that she enjoys?

It’s the interaction with different people that gives her fulfilment. “I’m a social scientist so I love to go to the barangays. I love to talk to people,” she shared.“When they smile and tell you thank you, I really feel it’s true.”

Steering the ship in its course

It is exactly this experience of teaching and mingling with different kinds of people that is put to good use in order to search for new knowledge which will help her steer the Council into the right direction, said Dr. Sumagaysay whose style of administration is collegial and participatory.  

She said the question ‘What else can NRCP do to fulfil its mandate?’ pops up frequently.  “As a teacher you always ask that, ‘what else can I teach my students?,’” she said.

But to answer this question, other questions have to be answered first, the indefatigable Dr.Sumagaysay pointed out.

The first of these is the question ’Where are we now?’

Finding the answer to this question is the first thing she would do in January, she told S&T Post. “That’s why I need all those accomplishment reports and the strategic plan….I want to see what have been done, what facilitated its accomplishment, and we strengthen those…. then we see what are the challenges, then we address those challenges,” she elaborated.

The second question is ‘Where do we want to go?’

“We revisit the mandate, the mission, vision, objectives. Which are realistic? Which are doable this year?”

And finally, the question ‘How do we get there?’ for action planning.

Foremost in her mind is the issue of greater visibility and transparency.  Though NRCP has already been trying to put together some research findings for possible policies, Dr. Sumagaysay said they should do more than that.

“From basic research until making people happy, it’s a long stretch.Our output should be picked up by applied research until commercialization, until it is used by people and then they have healthier lives, they are morehappy, have more income, more employment. But what is not seen in that stage is that it all started with us – basic research. Most of the time, we are invisible in the sense that what is usually seen by the public is who gave us the new product,” she explained.

Expanding its influence to other government agencies is another thing she hopes to achieve for NRCP as a provider of policy advisories based on the basic researches being done by its 3,000 plus members. “I may not have the answer,” she said, “but everybody may contribute to the answer to the question.  That sense of ownership of certain ideas will actually motivate all of us.”

Family life

She may have carved an outstanding career in teaching and research but her family is certainly not relegated to the background.

After earning her MA in Economics from UP Diliman, she tied the knot with a man who shares the same love for bossa nova, acoustic, and saxophone music.  Now, she and husband Jonas have raised a close-knit family with three driven and supportive kids: son Laser Blitz who is a lawyer; daughter Kreem Yzra who is on her postgraduate internship at University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital; and another daughter, Kristel Dame who is a 4th year medicine student at Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation.

The Sumagaysays love going to the beach, visiting museums, and traveling every year. Their last overseas trip as a family was to South Korea in 2013.

From their travels, she collected coins and bills which she put together in an album. She was also into stamp collecting. Sadly, later that year, Yolanda made her landfall and took away their travel pictures, her coin and stamp collection and everything else including their laptops, cars, and refrigerator.

“Nothing was left,” she said, recalling the experience of seeing the water rise up to 7 feet inside their house in Tacloban and how they struggled to get out as furniture and other things floated around. Outside, they saw a neighbor’s car roll out of the garage, floating in water, as well as their other neighbors  already on the roof of their houses.  

Now, things are different for the Sumagaysay family. They no longer buy new models of anything; they just have the basics, nothing more.  “We have to help others rebuild, instead of spending for something,” she said. “You are here, not just for yourself.”

-By Espie Angelica A. de Leon,S&T Media Service, DOST-STII