Leonardo Co

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Leonardo Co (right) and the Rafflesia leonardi (left) found in the Cagayan region, which was named after him. (Photo from the Leonardo L Co: In Memoriam page on Facebook.)

Leonardo L. Co (29 December 1953-15 November 2010) was a Filipino scientist specializing in ethnobotany and plant taxonomy.

Prior to his death, he was the president of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. He is an internationally renowned botanist who discovered a number of endemic plant species in the Philippines. The parasitic flowering plant Rafflesia leonardi, which is one of the largest flowers in the world, was named after him.

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Education

Co studied at the University of the Philippines, Diliman (UP-Diliman) in 1972, taking up the bachelor of science in botany (BS Botany) degree. A passionate student of botany, he also joined the Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral sa Pilipino (Association of Students of Filipino, or SAMAPIL), a UP-Diliman based organization of Filipino student writers.

In 1977, Co wrote the A Manual on some Philippine Medicinal Plants published by the UP Botanical Society. However, he failed to graduate during that year because he reportedly failed in either his physics or math subjects.

In 2009, the UP Board of Regents awarded Co his BS Botany degree due to his contribution in the field of botany. He was the last recipient of the said degree, since BS Botany is no longer offered by the university.

Career

Co was a botanist for Conservation International-Philippines. He is also a former member of the Community Health, Education, Services and Training in Cordillera Region (Chestcore) in 1981, where he authored the book Common Medicinal Plants in the Cordillera Region: A Trainor’s Manual for Community-Based Health Programs, which described more than 120 endemic medicinal plants in the region.

In 2004, Co wrote the book Palanan forest dynamics plot: floristic diversity and stand structure of a lowland evergreen forest in N.E. Luzon, Philippines, which probed the biodiversity of Palanan, Isabela.

Co has also advocated the planting of native trees along main thoroughfares and tourist attractions in the country. His advocacy bore fruit along the North Luzon Expressway, where 32 native tree seedlings were planted in 2007. Furthermore, native trees were also planted in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and in the UP-Diliman campus.

He has also led the discovery of a number of endemic orchid species in Palawan. He also clarified the classification of the balayong tree, popularly known in the province as the Palawan cherry, which, according to Co, is not a cherry (Prunus) but a legume from the Fabaceae family.

Botanist Julie Barcelona named an endemic specie of a native rafflesia plant, which she discovered in 2008, after Co, to honor his accomplishments as a botanist and taxonomist. The said plant bears the scientific name Rafflesia leonardi.

Death

Working as a consultant for a reforestation project of the Energy Development Corporation, Co, along with four companions, were conducting a research in a forest in Kananga, Leyte when an alleged crossfire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and rebel group New People's Army occured. Co, together with forest guard Sofronio Cortez and local farmer Julius Borromeo, were killed. Farmer Policarpio Balute and forester Ronino Gibe survived the crossfire. Co's group were caught in the skirmish despite having a security clearance in entering the site.

Authorities have yet to be determine who killed Co, Cortez, and Borromeo. The AFP stated that they did not target Co's group during the crossfire. Co is survived by wife Glenda and daughter Linnaei Marie.

Legacy

Co is considered to be the foremost authority in ethnobotany in the Philippines. According to wildlife biologist Dr. Perry Ong, "Leonard was one of the country's greatest plant taxonomists. His opinion on taxonomic issues was sought after by experts. His encyclopedic memory of plants was unequaled. You could ask him the name of a plant and he would tell you its relationship with other plants and give you the reference. A great loss to the country and to the conservation community."

Environmentalist and writer Ben Vallejo described Co as someone who advocated the "classical way of learning biodiversity, like looking at plants and animals and closely observing them."

His body is planned to be cremated on 20 November 2010 and will be scattered in Palanan and in a tree in the UP Diliman campus.

References

Citation

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