THE NIH BUILDING

Any historical tracing of the National Institutes of Health is deeply tied to the building at which it is housed. The current NIH Building is located along Pedro Gil Street in the University of the Philippines Manila campus. Inaugurated on 18 April 1997 during the term of Chancellor Perla D. Santos-Ocampo, this three-story building houses the NIH facilities such as its Central Laboratories and administrative offices of most of its Institutes and Centers, all basked in the beige exterior which complements the general façade of buildings around the UP Manila campus. The building welcomes everyone through its grand foyer that leads into the lobby where the NIH Mural is displayed for all to see.

Before its inauguration and housing of the NIH in 1997, the building was witness to key developments in the scientific and political history of the nation. The site at which the NIH building currently stands was originally the Bureau of Government Laboratories established by the Philippine Commission in 1901. The construction of the laboratories began in 1902 along Calle Herran (now Pedro Gil Street) in Ermita on the old Spanish Exposition Groups, an 11-hectare site that would also eventually house the Philippine General Hospital and the UP College of Medicine and Surgery. The laboratories were completed in 1904 and opened in 1905, the same year that the Bureau of Government Laboratories was redesignated as the Bureau of Science.

According to the historical account compiled by Dr. Brian Buckley, the Bureau of Science laboratories gained fame as some of the best equipped in the region. The two opposite halls of the building were each dedicated to biological and chemical work, with a massive library in the middle containing some 12,000 volumes and 70 sets of publication, a feat essential to the conduct of research at that time.

Public health was a major focus for the Bureau as it became the main institute addressing epidemics with growing success. The Government’s public health programs were often based on the Bureau’s work on malaria, dysentery, cholera, filariasis, beriberi, and other communicable diseases. The Bureau’s biological laboratory assisted in this work by analysis of specimens and the production of sera and vaccines – producing units of smallpox vaccines, tetanus antitoxin, diphtheria antitoxic, normal horse serum, typhoid vaccine, antistreptococcus serums, antimeningococcic serums, and gonococcus vaccines. 

Everything changed with the arrival and occupation of Japanese forces in the Philippines in December 1941, seizing Manila through a brutal military occupation. In appalling conditions, the retaking of Manila by the Americans went down in a month-long battle along the streets of Pedro Gil, Taft Avenue, and Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard. The buildings in the UP campus, including the Bureau of Science, were fortified by the Japanese, keeping hostages locked away with sandbagged windows, machine gun posts, and a cannon inside the building.

Manila’s liberation came with its destruction. The entire city was burned to the ground. This included the Bureau of Science building, housing the central scientific library of the Philippine government. Along with it came an exceedingly valuable and irreplaceable natural history collection with samples collected over decades across the Philippines, India, China, Malaysia, Africa, and Australia.

A 1947 Executive Order created the Institute of Science, which was renamed the Institute of Science and Technology in 1951. Among the priorities of the Institute and the Philippine Government was the rehabilitation of the old Bureau of Science building, construction of which started in March 1956 and was finished a few months after in November 1956. The main sponsor of the building’s construction was Mrs. Luz Banzon Magsaysay, the First Lady at that time. The reconstruction and modernization of science and technology facilities and services relied heavily on help from the United States, the United Nations and Japanese reparations, and Filipino scientists and technologists who were eligible for training and placement in the United States and Japan. Given the scarcity of food in the early post-war years, the early emphasis was on food-related studies. But as rehabilitation progressed, the Institute became more the center for broader scientific and technological research work, plant and good science research and development, product testing, analysis and standardization, and scientific consultation, information and scientific library services.

Over the years, the building would house research- and science-centered government institutions: the National Institute of Science and Technology in 1958 (through the Science Act of 1958), the National Science and Technology Authority (through Executive Oder No. 784, s. 1982), and the Department of Science and Technology (through Executive Order No. 128, s. 1987) which houses the Industrial Development Technology Institute, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, the Philippine Science Centrum, and others.  

In its present form, the NIH building was witness to the scientific development of the country; through war, famine, and development, the site has welcomed thousands of researchers conducting original research projects, providing training in and management services for research, and advancing the development of the Filipino spirit through research and development. The current NIH building personifies UP Manila’s determination to support the national effort to improve the health of all Filipinos by enhancing its capability for health research and development through the establishment of the NIH.

Envisioned as the country’s home of health research, the groundbreaking of the new 19-storey, state-of-the-art NIH building was held on 20 July 2016. With an allocation of one billion pesos from the national government for its construction, the new NIH Building will provide a permanent home to the 14 NIH Institutes and Centers, 17 Study Groups, and house several cutting-edge research laboratories, such as the Biosafety Laboratory, Microbiology Laboratory, Tissue Culture Facility, Cytogenetics Laboratory, Newborn Screening Microarray, and molecular laboratories.

The new NIH building will also house the administrative offices of UP Manila, as well as the DOST Manila campus and offices.