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11 Filipino Inventions and their Inventors

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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.

Well, 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.

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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.

JohnM

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.

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Aldel
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Aldel

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… Read more »

Rusty
Guest

you know, you’re right, cabbies often try to figure out what you know. Probably wise to tell them you’ve been here many times. 🙂

vb6student
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vb6student

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 🙁

D.Cabida
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D.Cabida

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.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Ray – A couple of years ago, I went to McDonald's one time and ordered a Quarter Pounder. Sorry, sir, no stock. How about a cheeseburger? Sorry. Hamburger? Sorry. Do you want chicken sir? No, what kind of burger do you have? None. Chicken sir?

Paul
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Paul

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! 😉

MindanaoBob
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Hi Bruce – Looking at what happened to house prices, that Snowflake is the smartest of all of us! 😆

Phil n Jess R.
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Phil n Jess R.

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 ..

Tommy
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Tommy

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… Read more »

John Miele
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John Miele

Wildcat: Since we've returned, Rebecca has been offered numerous positions with job services for OFWs. She has turned them all down. She refuses to aid what she calls the Philippines' dirty little secret.

brian
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brian

…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 !!!

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

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!
Mabuhay"

John Miele
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John Miele

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.

Ramon Palma Jr
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Ramon Palma Jr

Low to all….scientist…Who is the smartest scientest in the world….

From:Philippines

nomad4ever
Guest

Great post! I didn't know about most of those, except Karaoke. As an avid fan myself I researched the topic a bit and even wrote a lengthy article about it.

As for the other inventions – good learning for me today. 😉

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Michelle – 😉

dans
Guest

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.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi macky – OK, I misunderstood you. But, you know, it is so different here in the Philippines. You don't see expats going to places like the merkado and such. I know only a few who do such things. Learning the language? Very rare. Most expats who learn the language are Missionaries.

I agree, it can certainly be done.

Ellen
Guest

Hi Macky, cruised through Mexico, from the Baja all the way to Zihuatanejo. You are right, lots of American and Canadian snowbirds there. What I have seen are they don't just stay there and do nothing, they actually do a lot for the locals – open businesses, hire locals, going around doing charity work, travel inland, eat in streetside cafes with the locals, and a lot of them take the time to learn and speak Spanish. When we were there, we were very welcomed by both locals and expats. For some reason, I don't feel the same way here. We… Read more »

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