11 Filipino Inventions and their Inventors

Thomas Edison has always been a person I have admired. So much genius stuck inside an ordinary human life. What else could he have invented if he could have lived over two life-spans? I was watching a reality show on the BBC, a competition for inventors to market their products, and I got to thinking: What everyday things were invented in the Philippines or by Filipinos? Despite all the publicity about labor and jobs and so on, there MUST have been some Filipinos who, through their own ingenuity, invented products to fill a need.

Moon BuggyWell, the answer is that there have been MANY Filipino inventions, most of which have proven significant, either to history or quality of life. I have limited this list to the eleven I feel most important… You may disagree, or, please share if you think that I’ve left something off. I left off the “Water Car” and Fluorescent bulb because they are disputed. These are the guys that every Filipino or foreigner living here should remember whenever they hear those tired old clichés.

1. Karaoke: Invented in 1975 by Roberto del Rosario. I really thought this was a Japanese invention, despite its’ popularity here, and I was completely wrong. A brilliant guy, he invented many other musical devices, but Karaoke will always be remembered as his greatest triumph (or bane to humankind, depending on your point of view.)

2. Medical Incubator: Invented in 1941 by Fe del Mundo. She was the first Asian student in Harvard’s School of medicine. Countless young lives were saved by her invention and genius.

3. Moon Buggy: Invented in 1968 by Eduardo San Juan. He was the project leader for NASA in the buggy development: An underfunded and underappreciated engineering success. This one has special significance to me, due to my Grandfather working at the Cape in the early space program. The moon buggy allowed greater exploration of the Moon, yet Eduardo San Juan’s contribution has been relegated largely to status as a footnote.

4. Erythromycin: Invented (Discovered) by Dr. Abelardo Aguilar in 1949. He sent a sample to Eli Lilly, who promptly stole the idea and patented it, and later marketed it successfully. Remember kids, this is why the great inventors always go to attorneys first… He never received a single peso from his product, that saved millions of lives (Thank him if you are allergic to penicillin!).

5. Yoyo: Invented as a hunting weapon by the ancient Filipinos, probably in the Visayas. “Discovered” when Magellan landed.

6. Video Phone: Invented by Gregorio Zara, in 1955 no less! When James Bond was using one in Dr. No, it had already been in existence a number of years. This is the predecessor of the camera in your mobile!

7. Computer Microchips: Many types were invented by Diosdado Banatao, beginning with the world’s first 16-bit chip in 1972, which he invented while working at Commodore. This led to the development of GUI (The thing that makes the graphics on this page…). Why should you care? Without GUI, you would now be looking at a page filled with nothing but a bunch of ones and zeroes.

8. Isolated Rice Breeds: In 1966, Dr. Rodolfo Aquino isolated nine specific breeds of rice for the International Rice Research Institute. His discoveries helped prevent famine in much of Asia, and were nearly solely responsible for Thailand and Vietnam becoming the world’s leading rice producers (A spot once solely occupied by the Philippines.).

9. Drug Detection: Dr. Enrique Ostrea developed the method for detecting drug use by pregnant females by detecting traces in the baby’s stools. His method is used by doctors worldwide in diagnosing drug dependency in infants.

10. Jeepney: Immediate post-war, and the most common form of transportation in the country today. A Filipino invention, though born from necessity, ingenuity, and thrift.

11. Patis: Love it or hate it, I was surprised that it has only been around for the last 60 years! Additionally, the Filipino Patis was the basis for the Vietnamese and Thai fish sauce industries, and not the other way around. (If you think Filipinos use a lot, after a week in Thailand or Vietnam???) It was invented by Tantay Food and Sauces after they discovered that their dried fish were turning into liquid when stored with salt in earthen jars.

Post Author: JohnM (207 Posts)

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

Learn a Philippine Language


  1. Aldel says

    Interesting John. I knew about items 1, 5, 7, and 10. If you want to make instant friends in the Philippines, try the Karaoke even if you can't sing well. People will love you just for trying. I work in Silicon Valley in California so this guy you listed in item 7 is a legend. He called his third startup company S3 – did graphics chips. As you might guess, S3 stood for Start up #3. I honestly thought that Patis or fish sauce was copied from those countries you mentioned.

    Did you notice that because of the passive nature of Asians and their reluctance to advertise themselves, very few are actually recognized? And I think they like it that way.

    • vb6student says

      Inventors do advertise themselves … but its the Biggest mistake a Filipino Inventor make. Instead of support ridicule and the like a Filipino Inventor will received. Filipinos have a natural colonial mentality, if a product is label philippine made its not likely to succeed. Some philippine products is intentionally mis labeled from other company or no label at all. Its sad but its a reality … a taboo topic. Thanks for the very brave topic … and yes i know the reality of what i write here … i am a filipino inventor myself :(

  2. D.Cabida says

    Fish sauce ( Patis) has been around for thousands of years – The Ancient Greeks then Romans used it as a sauce/condiment – They called it "garos" or garum. Similar method of preparation as now used all over South East Asia.

  3. Paul says

    Hi John – There are still plenty of Filipino inventions awaiting discovery by others. Necessity being the mother of invention, a Pinoy in need will fabricate whatever he needs at the time. In his spare time, he'll make something he can either give away or sell at the palengke! 😉

  4. Phil n Jess R. says

    I didn't know that .This is good to hear, ….and Karaoke is so nice to listen to when the singer is good to hear .. I like to hear Karaoke in the mountain of northern Mindanao as it echos thru the valleys ..

  5. Tommy says

    wow John interesting stuff have you been to the Edison estate here in Fort Myers ? we have an annual festival of lights parade as well to celebrate Edison but it is well known here that alot of his patents were inventions by others that he rushed to obtain patents on. And i guess i have my own connection to one of the inventors you mention ! My father who was also an inventor; invented things like the Edge shaving cream, can and the ham can with the pull top for amour star also the machine used to fill ice cream cartons etc but the one connection i have to your list is my father worked on the same project that Eduardo San Juan did as he was the inventor for the fire extinguisher system on apollo spacecraft. Thanks for sharing this story !

  6. brian says

    …I have always thought karaoke could be used for roadside sobriety testing…simply put the microphone in the suspects hand…turn car radio on….if they sing…GUILTY !!!

  7. Jenny says

    Silent waters run deep – Filipinos' way of thinking.
    Eat your heart out guys, – jealous, jealous,jealous—
    Filipinos are low-key, not loud, boastful and certainly geniuses, without having to beat their chests!

  8. John Miele says

    Jenny: While researching this article, I noticed a number of contests annually sponsored by the RP gov't for Filipino inventors… They still keep chugging along. Hopefully, with support, future inventors will receive credit that is due.

  9. says

    hi john,

    I don't consider the moon buggy as invention but rather a specific tool to be use for a specific job by specific person, invention for me is something you invent for the whole world to use it, such as the "can opener" or a "paper clip", moon buggy is something NASA already thought of making it as the astronauts might need it to scout the surface, it's not an invention for a common person and for a common purpose.

  10. Pete says

    I guess the list is kinda nice but the most impressive invention thats regrettably not on the list is the Philippina. Now thats an invention!

  11. says


    Very nice post. It really spurred me to investigate some of these scientists as I am interested in teaching my students the importance of the contributions of Filipino scientists.

    I did some research on Eduardo San Juan and his invention of the moon buggy. It seems there is some debate if in fact he invented the moon buggy. There are no original drawings of his or other documentation to support this. Many web sites seem to repeat the same information. I have found a NASA document that describes the development of the lunar rover and there is no mention of Eduardo San Juan.

    Of course he could have come up with the original design and not given credit as this is possible. Many times, a team of scientists work together to come up with a solution to a particular problem and I suspect this is what happened. I'm still investigating this and I keep you posted.

  12. AlexB says

    Hi John, I just came across this today. Wow, where on earth did you get this info? I only know about the yoyo, the rice and patis. The jeepney, that’s debatable. But medical incubator? It so happens that Dr. Fe del Mundo was my mom’s pediatrician when I was born. Wow. Alex

    • JohnM says

      Alex: Honestly, I can’t remember other than I researched about a dozen sites. Kinda cool about Dr. del Mundo!

  13. JP says

    Aside from being the first Asian student in Harvard Med School, I’d like to add that the late Dr. Fe del Mundo was also the first woman student in Harvard Medical School in 1936. It was actually an accident. The admissions people thought they were getting a male student. How surprised they all must’ve been when she showed up at the men’s dorm. But they couldn’t turn her away after seeing her impeccable records. She paved the way for women to be regularly accepted into Harvard less than ten years later. Not an easy feat considering it was the heyday of racial segregation.

  14. says

    how ’bout the bottle crown gun? (bala tansan) or the bamboo canon (new year kawayan) or gun.? (luthang) – I made them on my childhood days. One can never know who invented them first. Patents Not Included.

  15. says

    yes there are some brilliant philipinos my ex daughter in law was one of 30 chosen to go to korea and achieved her doctorate, but when i look at so much of the country it appears to be primitive with foreign technology, when you look at those small outrigers to the many islands etc and the philipinos sitting there doing very little all day couldn,t just one of them produce something more substantial for passengers to land than an 8 inch wide plank. I was in dab dab northern samar where an old lady who was probably 90 plus if she had fallen at that place would have been unlikely to survive ,well who cares

  16. Curious Bern says

    Hi, is it true that Filipinos invented the Philips Fluorescent lamp and the Armalite rifle?

  17. tony aniversario says

    I am searching for the patented invention regarding fertilizer applicator, specifically on sidfeeding.

    thank you.

  18. says

    The Karaoke was not invented by Filipino. It was invented in 1940 by Daisuke Inoue (a drummer) in a small Japanese village. He did not take out a patent, not imagining the world would take to it as it has.

  19. joevan says

    Filipino scientists are great. But sad to say, the Philippine govt. has no budget for them. They only know is to corrupt.

  20. John Miele says

    Aldel: Hmmm… These inventions made lots of money for other people, but rarely for those who discovered them. I think I would want the recognition!

  21. John Miele says

    D. Cabida: Correct, but the Filipino none was really the first commercial condiment. I read that they also think that early versions of Ketchup in Malaysia were the forerunners of Patis.

  22. John Miele says

    Paul: I think I see this nearly every time at the palengke… The ingenuity and thrift in this country really is amazing!

  23. John Miele says

    Tommy: Very cool! He must have been a really smart man. My grandfather was in guidance from Navajo through Apollo 17 at the Cape, retired, and came back in Personnel for around the first 25 Shuttles. Over 10,000 scientists and engineers wereactive on Apollo 11.

  24. Phil n Jess R. says

    Yea Me too .. but some of the filipinos do sing good and i enjoy listening to them ..even at 1 AM …

  25. Paul says

    Hey John – Do you think some one(s) may have read your article? Could be a coincidence, but never underestimate the power of LiP!

    The Manila Bulletin, Saturday, March 14, 2009, Regional News report on inventors in Mindanao and some new support for them from the Technology Application and Promotion Institute (TAPI), focusing on promoting inventions! 😉

  26. Tommy says

    Yea John he was a VERY smart man i don't know what happened to me

    Its really cool to go to huntsville alabama and see his extinguisher system on display at the museam there i also have the copies of the patents. Maybe my dad worked with your grandpa huh !

  27. John Miele says

    Tommy: Possibly… My Grandfather was normally at the cape, but he had a number of postings downrange.

  28. John Miele says

    Dans: I see your point… The design was actually his, though. He was given a problem and solved it… I consider that invention, but I understand your feeling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *