29 October 2015—In the ceremonial Hall of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, Robert S. Zeigler, director general and chief executive officer of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), received the Order of Sikatuna, the highest award that the Philippine Government can give to a foreign national. Zeigler was conferred the Rank of Datu (Grand Cross, Gold Distinction) in appreciation of his “... continuing support in mitigating poverty through the promotion of long-term food security for the Philippines.” Previous recipients include former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) President Sadako Ogata.
Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jesus I. Yabes conferred the award on behalf of President Benigno S. Aquino III. During the citation ceremony, Mr. Yabes said that the award recognizes Dr. Zeigler’s extraordinary service in nurturing IRRI’s special relations with the Philippines in the 17 years of his residency in the country (10 at the helm of IRRI and 7 as an IRRI scientist in the late 1980s and early 1990s). During this period, particularly in the last decade as DG and CEO, the nation benefitted significantly. He added, “IRRI projects undertaken and completed under Dr. Zeigler’s term contributed to the country’s long-term food security, rice yield growth and rise in incomes and productivity of Filipino farmers. Equally significant was Dr. Zeigler’s sustained advocacy for farmers’ rights and welfare which helped improve the lives of rural communities.”
The U.S. native, who is retiring in December, is a plant pathologist with extensive knowledge and experience in plant breeding, forest ecology, and soil science. During his career, he has obtained distinction in the fields of agricultural research, development management, and governance in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
In accepting the Order of Sikatuna, Dr. Zeigler said, “This is a tremendous honor and indeed humbling to receive this very, very important honor from the President of the Philippines. It is truly a moving experience personally and it is something that reminds me of the importance of IRRI. Although this honor is bestowed on me, it is really a recognition of the extreme importance of the work that all of our colleagues at IRRI and our partner institutions in the Philippines to advance the interest of not only Philippine farmers but also of all Filipinos. It is with great honor, and I must say considerable personal pleasure, that I accept this recognition. Thank you very much.”
Established in 1953, The Order of Sikatuna is a diplomatic merit for exceptional and meritorious contributions to the Philippines conferred on diplomats, officials, and nationals for fostering, developing, and strengthening relations with the country. The Gold Distinction (Katangiang Ginto) is the highest distinction under the Rank of Grand Cross (Datu), awarded exclusively to crown princes, vice presidents, senate presidents, house speakers, chief justices, foreign ministers or other cabinet officials, ambassadors, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, or other individuals of similar or equivalent rank.