50 years, and still going strong . . .

In 2009-2010, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), located in Los Baños, the Philippines (my home and workplace for almost 19 years) celebrated its 50th Jubilee. As Director for Program Planning and Communications, I was asked to plan and develop all the IRRI golden jubilee activities and events.


But first, a little background . . . 
On 9 December 1959, the Philippines government and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in New York that established IRRI as an organization to do basic research on the rice plant and applied research on all phases of rice production, management, distribution and utilization.

A few months later, on 14 April 1960, the first Board of Trustees met in Manila and approved the constitution and bye-laws that gave the institute its legal status. IRRI was born, and has been making a significant contribution ever since to:
  • reducing poverty;
  • increasing food security;
  • improving health and nutrition; and
  • sustaining the agricultural environment.

The Philippine Postal Corporation recognized IRRI’s golden jubilee by issuing four commemorative stamps on 14 April 2010, for which I coordinated the design from the IRRI side with Gene Hettel and designer Boyet Lazaro of the Communication and Publications Services (CPS). Boyet also designed the 50th logo above. I produced this video using old photographs of the construction of the IRRI research center and staff housing in the early 60s, as well as some footage of Boyet designing the stamps and selecting the final four.

The events . . .
To develop the themes and format of the golden jubilee celebrations, IRRI signed a contract with entertainment company Filmex who organized two major events in December 2009, around the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Memorandum of Understanding. On Thursday 10 December 2009, IRRI hosted the President of the Republic of the Philippines (then H.E. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), members of the diplomatic corps and Manila business community, and IRRI staff at a reception held at the Ramon Magsaysay Center in Manila. The event was catered by Italian restaurant chain Cibo di M, with excellent Chilean wines supplied by up-and-coming wine merchants Wine Depot.

Following the formalities, we were treated to an evening of entertainment from Isay Alvarez (who was a member of the original London cast of Miss Saigon), and retro-60s and Beatles cover band, Area One.

Then on Sunday 13 December, we held an all-day party at IRRI for all staff and families members. The day kicked-off with a street-dancing competition between teams from the communities (known as barangays) surrounding IRRI where many of the local staff live. This culminated in the grand final on the IRRI campus, shown in this video.

As the street dancing was finishing it started to rain, and this continued for about 2-3 hours. Fortunately, it had eased off by about 3 pm . Ironic really, because the day before had been gloriously hot, with hardly a cloud in a clear blue sky.

In the afternoon, there was an open-air market, with stalls selling all sorts of novelties and handicrafts, as well as lots of fast-food vendors. There were street performers, such as magicians and stilt-men keeping everyone amused, until the main event of the day, a 4-hour concert beginning in the daylight at 5 pm. Between the Manila event on the previous Thursday night, the Filmex crew had come down to IRRI and constructed this stage on the IRRI sports field – a stage any big rock band would have been proud to perform on.

More than 3,000 people attended the concert. The concert included local and national performers, several stars of Philippine TV, including the hots for the event, comedians Wally and Jose.

Tagalog was the language for most of the event, which excluded the foreign staff of IRRI to some extent, but the concert was IRRI’s way of thanking  its Filipino staff, and celebrating IRRI’s 50 years in the Philippines.

Among the acts performing were students from the Philippine High School for the Arts, located near IRRI in Los Baños, folk rock group Makiling, girl band The Mocha Girls (whose participation caused some rumpus among several straight-laced IRRI international staff), and national singing idols Karylle and Christian Bautista.

Just hear all the girls scream (at 1:30) as Christian comes out on stage.

The concert ended with a glorious firework display. What a day!

Afterwards I joined the Filmex crew (particularly Bing, Mel, Em, Fides and Ginny) on stage to thank them for all their efforts. By 8 am the following morning, the stage had been completely removed – you wouldn’t think there’d been a concert there just a few hours before.

On 14 April 2010, we held three events. For about 18 months prior to this date I had been negotiating with the National Historical Institute of the Philippines to have an historical marker erected at IRRI. In the end, there were two; this video shows the unveiling ceremony. The markers (in English and Tagalog) indicate that IRRI is a site of national historical importance for the Philippines.

The commemorative stamps were then released in a simple ceremony shown in the next video. At the beginning of the ceremony we showed the video It was 50 years ago today . . . 

These are the two First Day Covers, each signed by the IRRI design team – the only ones in the world with these signatures!

In the evening, IRRI held a golden jubilee dinner under the stars, around the decorative pond in front of the FF Hill, Harrar, and Chandler administration buildings.

And the dinner also became the farewell party (despedida) for Steph and me.

The dinner ended with yet another fireworks display, this time over the rice paddies. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful (and at times, emotional) evening.

2 thoughts on “50 years, and still going strong . . .

  1. bluedot77 says:

    Truly one unforgettable event for me. I really enjoyed working with the IRRI people and I hope I get the chance to do that again. Best of all, I got to meet new friends. Thank you so much for the opportunity and the friendship!

  2. Bing villegas says:

    It was my pleasure and a distinct honor to conceptualize and direct your celebrations Mike. And it feels so good when clients do this kind documentation by themselves because to us, it means the expectations were met. Thank you so much for having us! Mabuhay!

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