This year 2016, May 16 marked the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the UP Diliman-Natural Science Research Institute-DNA Analysis Laboratory (UPD-NSRI-DAL) and the third Forensic Science Symposium; DNA as a Catalyst for change held at SEAMED INNOTECH Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

The event was headed by Maria Corazon Abogado De Ungria, PhD of the NSRI-UPD who took over Saturnina C. Halos PhD, currently chair of Biotechnology Advisory Team of the Department of Agriculture.

The 1st Forensic Science Symposium (FSS 2014) was held at the NSRI Conference Room on 1, February 2014 with the theme “Forensic Science in the Philippine Status, Challenge and Opportunities.”

Last year 2015, the 2nd FSS (FSS 2015) adopted the theme “The Next Generation/The New Generation” and focused on the use of DNA Technology in disaster victim identification.

For this year the organizers have combined the 3rd FSS (FSS2 2016) with the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of UPD-NSRI-DAL on May 16, 2016 and have adopted the theme “DNA as a Catalyst for Change”.

Speakers were especially selected from amongst the institutional collaborations of the UPD_NSRI-DAL as well as those who gave invaluable support in their own professional capacities from 1996 to 2016.

It was on 16 May when UP President Emilio Q. Javier signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Philippine Vice President Joseph E. Estrada who was the chair of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) to formally create a laboratory, that would support low enforcement agencies (NBI and PNP) and be developed exclusively to DNA analysis services, forensic, diagnostic services, evidence research and such other related services.

Pursuant to the MOA, PACC gave ₱8 million for renovation and upgrading of the laboratory. It was in 2001 when UPD-NSRI-DAL received its largest grant used to purchase laboratory equipment and others.

DNA, in addition to criminal investigation, DNA testing results has contributed significantly to the early resolution of cases of questioned filiation and relationship within and outside family courts. Genetic Testing had become the procedure of choice over blood typing because of its higher power of discrimination.

Four International experts namely Dr. George Sensabaugh Jr., Professor Emeritus, Forensic and Biomedical Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley; Mr. Christopher Asplen, former director of the US National Commission on DNA Evidence and currently Attorney in Charge, Life Sciences Practice, Hill Wallack LLP; Ph. Nor Aidora Saedon, Head of the Crime Unit, DNA Forensics Section, of Chemistry, Malaysia; and Ms. Shiela E. Dennis, former Assistant Director, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, New York City and currently a DOST-PCIEERD Balik Scientist at the UPD-NSRI-DAL shared their valuable insights on the contribution of forensic science in strengthening the criminal justice system in different parts of the world.

Ms. Shiela Marie E. Dennis, MSc, DOST-PCIEERD Balik Scientist, DNA Analysis Laboratory NSRI-IUPD, on the 2nd day, 17 May 2016 spoke on Disaster Victim identification: Beyond World Trade Center.

She said that the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City was, and still is the single most deadly act of terrorism ever committed in the United States of America. It was also one of the first DNA identification led disasters that set the framework for disaster victim identification (DIV) and mass disaster plans in the United States and internationally. Her talk will gave a first-hand perspective on handling mass disaster from a forensic biologist’s point of view and how working on subsequent mass disasters can be completely different on so many levels. It also moved from the technical and organizational side of mass disasters and touch upon others questions that can affect the process of identification such as culture, religion, politics and resources. It also gave insight into the disaster morgue operation plan developed after World Trade Center and it’s applications in on-site and field exercise.

clip_image002 Ms. Sheila Marie E. Dennis is a Balik Scientist of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Ms. Dennis graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Antropology and completed her Master of Science in Forensic Science at the University of New Haven in West Haven, CT. Being part of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in New York City, Ms. Dennis worked on DNA testing of challenging samples from unidentified human remains, reference samples and familial exemplars from the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina/New Orleans. In 2004, she was invited by the Beijing Genomics Institute to work on bone sample from the Thailand tsunami victims. In 2013, Ms Dennis was appointed as the Assistant Director at OCME, where she managed teams responsible for missing and unidentified person, cold cases and post-conviction cases. She also supervised the Research, Development, Validation and Implementation Team responsible for investigating and validating new and optimized advancements in forensic biology.

In 2014, Ms. Dennis was awarded a US Fulbright Scholarship and Research Fellowship to conduct her proposed research project entitled “It’s all Relative: A Molecular Approach to Forensics and Ethnicity in the Philippines” at the UPD-NSRI-DAL. During this time, she gave some Bio 397 lectures and helped organize FSS2015. In 2015, Ms. Dennis became the first DOST-PCIEERD Balik Scientist of UPD-NSRI-DAL, and once again is a key player in the organization of FSS2016.

Other topics discussed were: DNA Profiling in Malaysia Applications to Islamic Laws and Ethnic Traditions by Ph. Nor Aidora Saedon, Head, Crime DNA Unit, DNA Forensic Sector, Department of Chemistry Malaysia.

DNA Profiling in Malaysia: Application to Islamic Laws and Ethnic Traditions, Ph. Nor Aidora Saedon, Head, Crime DNA Unit, DNA Forensics Section, Department of Chemistry, Malaysia; Government Efforts Against Human Trafficking: Gains and Challenges, Atty. Darlene R. Pajarito, Executive Director, Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, Department of Justice; DOST-PCIEERD Balik Scientist, DNA Analysis Laboratory, NSRI, UP Diliman; Disaster Victim Identification in the Philippines, Dr. Wilfredo E. Tierra, Assistant Chief, Medico-Legal Division, National Bureau of Investigation; Filipino Population Genetics: Another Aspect of UPD-NSRI-DAL Research, Mr. Frederick C. Delfin, University Research Associate, DNA Analysis Laboratory, NSRI, Up Diliman; and DNA as a Catalyst for Change, Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria, University Researcher and Head, DNA Analysis Laboratory, NSRI, UP Diliman, Director, Program on Forensics and Ethnicity, Philippine Genome Center Senior Lecturer, Institute of Biology, College of Science, UP Diliman;

DNA as a catalyst for change was discussed by Maria Corazon A. De Ungria PhD. She said that DNA is the most effective tool for human identification. In the Philippines where testimonies comprise the most common and at times, the only evidence presented in court, forensic DNA testing provides objective scientific evidence to a justice system that has been accused of partiality and in inefficiency. With the mandate to pioneer the development of forensic DNA technology in the Philippines, the UPD-NSRI-DAL was established in 16 May 1996. This paper discusses the changing view of the Philippine Supreme Court on the contribution of DNA evidence to improve our justice system.

clip_image004 During her first year as head of laboratory in 1999, Dr. Maria Corazon A, De Ungria worked on a case that resulted in acquittal of the accused because of DNA evidence but only after six years of incarceration. Since then, Dr. De Ungria has actively worked to change the Supreme Court’s perception of DNA evidence, including those processed locally, as a powerful tool that should be used to improve the criminal justice system. In the years that followed, Dr. De Ungria has appeared in court many times as a DNA expert witness or as amicus curiae. In 2014, the Philippine Supreme Court recognized Dr. De Ungria as an “an expert witness on DNA print or identification techniques’. Dr De Ungria was also invited as a technical resource person to the Research Group of the Philippines Judicial Academy during the drafting of the Rule on DNA Evidence.

Highlighting the 20th UPD-NSRI-DAL founding Anniversary was the presentation of awards to the former heads Dr. Saturnina C. Halos, Founding Head (1996-1997), Dr. Michael P. Tan (1997-1998), Dr. Leo Uy (1998), Dr. Jerry S. Tamayo (1990) and the 5th Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria (1999 to present)

Gawad Transelor Award were also presented to Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria (2002-2003, 2004-2005) Hall of Fame and Cayvilline Calacal (2007) Jazelyn M. Salvador, Cayvelline C. Calacal (2011) and Frederick C. Delfin (2015) and other award presentations.

“The DNA Analysis laboratory of UPD-NSRI dedicates its 20th anniversary to the victims of crimes such as sexual assault, human trafficking and forced disappearances; to innocent persons who had been erroneously convicted; and to women and children whose rights had not been protected. The staff and researchers of UPD-NSRI-DAL are committed to continuing their efforts to make use of excellent science, particularly in the fields of molecular biology and genetics, and to collaborate with the other research groups and institutions in improving the Philippine criminal justice system by putting science at th service of society” said Ungria. (PSciJourn MegaManila)(Click picture to enlarge)

image image