Story & photo by Edd K. Usman
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato—It was 10 years in the making. The Philippine National Halal Laboratory and Science Center (PNHLSC) in Southern Mindanao is now open for business.
Local and foreign dignitaries joined and witnessed the inauguration of the PNHLSC building in this city. It was built at a cost of around P150 million. Including its old and new high-technology equipment, the total can go up to P300 million, the BusinessMirror learned.
The PNHLSC is a project of the Department of Science and Technology, specifically DOST-Soccsksargen region. It sits on a 1-hectare land area, with floor area of about 3,000 square meters. It has 35 rooms in its three floors. Soccsksargen stands for South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City. Koronadal City is its administrative capital.
Halal is an Arabic word which means legal, permissible. When referred to Muslim dietary needs, halal foods are those that do not contain un-Islamic or haram (illegal, forbidden) substances or elements, among them, pork and alcohol and their derivatives.
‘Seed’ of the building
DR. Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan, DOST-Soccsksargen director, recalled at the PNHLSC’s inauguration in Barangay Paraiso, Koronadal City, on February 25 that the “seed” of the building sprouted in 2003 when she conceptualized and proposed to the DOST leadership the High Impact Program on Halal, or as the “Philippine Science and Technology Program for the Development of the Halal Industry.”
“The DOST-12 [Soccsksargen] High-Impact Program on Halal covers different components, namely, advocacy and policy development, support to halal SMEs [small and medium enterprises], halal accreditation and certification, halal information management system, and the establishment of the Philippine National Halal Laboratory and Science Center, which is our entry point—the core of our very endeavor,” she explained.
Laidan was then the chairman of the Regional Information and Technology E-Commerce Council.
She said she was inspired in taking the cudgel for the halal program, and became more driven when then-President-now-House Speaker, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, once told her “that she [Arroyo] had been confronted by the problem that her guests from Islamic countries do not know where to find halal food whenever they are in the country.”
Laidan noted that the Department of the Budget and Management (DBM) released in 2008 a P75-million allocation for the building. Construction started in 2009 and finally completed in 2018 after more funding was released. In 2017, the DBM released another P75 million for the building.
One-stop shop center
LAIDAN revealed that the PNHLSC is “envisioned as one-stop shop center with the ultimate goal to develop locally made products of halal premium brand that is compliant to internationally accepted standards and requirements adopting a Unified Global Halal Standard.”
Describing the PNHLSC as “the pioneering halal facility” in the Philippines, she said it is “a certifying halal laboratory to serve as the clearing house of halal-certified products coming in and out of the country” for the benefit of consumers of halal products.
She said the PNHLSC offers laboratory analytical services that include profiling of fatty acids of animals and plants; DNA analysis in food and other processed products; alcohol content of beverages and other related products; and, fourth, qualitative detection of haram in meat, accepting various types of products for testing from customers encompassing the entire food supply chain.
Laidan described the PNHLSC as “a one-of-a-kind infrastructure in the country… our gateway to inclusion—social, financial and knowledge sharing.”
“It is our gateway to the world because of our integrity, network and accessibility since we are located in South Central Mindanao, serving a wider population of Muslims compared to other administrative regions of the country and, adjacent to the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] and is proximate to the BIMP-Eaga [Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area],” she added.
Seal of quality
THE DOST regional head cited the Turkey-based Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC-SMIIC) for approving its request for “permission to use its standards on halal.”
“SMIIC encourages DOST-12 with its expertise and capabilities to adopt, implement and assure compliance to SMIIC Unified Global Halal Standards through the leadership of Dr. Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan being a devout Muslim in the [Philippine] Ministry [Department] of Science and Technology.”
Laidan said the DOST regional office then launched its “Seal of Quality” following the OIC-SMIIC approval, “which will be the straight ticket of locally made Halal Certified products to the global halal market.”
The PNHLSC and the OIC-SMIIC approval marked two of the highlights of the country’s halal calendar.
Human resource development
DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, at the inauguration, cited the role of the DOST in the Halal Export Act, saying “this is to help in the human resources development, including a provision on services.”
She said the center in the Mindanao city caters not only to Soccsksargen, but to the whole of the Philippines. It means, she added, that the DOST is capable of testing for halal, which is a very specific test.
“A laboratory for halal, you cannot mix with non-halal,” Guevara emphasized.
“For many people, if you say ‘halal,’ [they think] it is only for Muslims. The truth is that halal food is a healthy food. So, it is not only our Muslim brothers, who are Filipinos, who will benefit but the entire nation because these products have a very high standard of quality,” the DOST undersecretary for research and development (R&D) noted.
Halal products are not only food, but also for cosmetics and many others, she said.
The DOST has two other halal laboratories at the DOST Calabarzon (Laguna in Luzon) and DOST Davao region (in Davao City), Guevara said. She explained that the department’s target is not just where halal is consumed but also where halal is produced.
Guevara said that besides from the Philippine Science High School, faculty and students of Sultan Kudarat State University, and the Southern Philippines University can also be the center for the research.
THE halal laboratory and science center could not have been established without DOST Soccsksargen’s partners’ help, particularly former South Cotabato Governor Arthur Y. Pinggoy, who was present at the inauguration.
Laidan said Pinggoy “never hesitated to extend his support” when she called him up as the DBM wanted assurance that there was a ready lot for the building.
“My sincerest thanks to this man of candor with a big heart. Gov. Arthur Y. Pinggoy Jr., as well as Mayor Peter B. Miguel, who provided for the access road from the national highway. With their support, our proposed budget amounting to P75 million for the establishment of the PNHLSC in Koronadal City was approved in 2008,” Laidan said at the inauguration.
As the budget releases were staggered, she said they had to source funds from the DOST region’s budget in 2010 while, at the same time, putting up and operating a world-class halal laboratory at the agency’s regional office in Cotabato City as they awaited the new building’s completion.
The DOST regional office transferred the halal equipment and operation to the PNHLSC, as well as its office to Koronadal City.
Laidan also thanked former DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo and his successor, Secretary Fortunato T. de la Pena, as well as the DOST undersecretaries, and the Regional Development Council for helping in the realization of the PNHLSC Building.
THE foreign dignitaries invited for the inauguration of the center were led by Russian Federation Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev, and halal thought leaders from the OIC Bosnia Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Muslim World League Deputy Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Zaid, OIC-SMIIC Secretary-General Ihsan Ovut, and many others.
The foreign dignitaries lauded DOST Soccsksargen for its strong advocacy and support for the halal industry as they expressed their support. Ceric even dubbed Laidan as the “Queen of Halal in Asia.”