A POINT OF AWARENESS By Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) | Part 1
What would you do if you are in a foreign land and your job as well as your life is in peril? Well, men who are made of lesser stuff will surely be crushed and go for the nearest exit. But not Horacio “Harry” (or Racie) Freires!
A Filipino engineer OFW in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Engr. Horacio B. Freires belongs to Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila’s (PLM) second batch of scholars and graduated in 1974 with BS Chemical Engineering. His baptism of fire in his career as well as his life came in the year 1987 to 1988 in the dessert of Al Kharj, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Then an OFW and the Chief Engineer of the water treatment plant of a British owned company that supplies the drinking water of the Saudian Military Camp, the Bin Laden group of companies falsely charged that his Reverse Osmosis Water Plant was the cause of the high pH problem, causing the Saudi government millions of dollars. The Saudi Arabian government thru the Ministry of Defense and Aviation (MODA) threatened him to be jailed if he will not produce good drinking water for them.
A true scientist seeking the truth
Engr. Freires was undaunted by this threat and against all odds, even his company could not stop him in his determination to prove himself right. With this relentless experimentation and chemical investigation he was able to prove that the high water pH was caused by the corrosion of the elevated steel coverage tank and the leaking of an alkali in the asbestos-cement-coated and underground distribution pipings constructed by the Bin Laden group. His recommendation of “buffering” was adopted by the Saudi government saving them millions of dollars.
The 2 ‘Goliaths’
Engr. Harry Freires compared himself to “David” in the desert against not just one giant “Goliath” but two. First, he was threatened to be jailed by the Saudi government. A Ministry of Defense Manager, Mr. Al Ghamdhi, threatened him, “Sorry Harry, we have to bring you to jail because we feel being poisoned thru your drinking water at 10.2 pH.” But after, he worked-out the successful production of the right amount of bicarbonate-buffering substances in the supply of drinking water in the city.
Second, Harry’s company, GETCO was not supportive at all. This is located, about a hundred kilometers away in Riyadh from Al Kharj, where the main office is located with a British Technical Manager (a graduate of a three-year course in London of Production Technology) who together with his staff (an Indian chemical engineer and a Pakistani chief chemist in the main office) were not giving Engr. Freires a substantial technical advise on how to solve the problem. It seems that he, a first timer to work in a foreign land and alone in the middle of a desert with no books, libraries to research on, is in the vortex of a huge super storm. He has to rely on himself and his basic education.
This involved the drinking water distribution system – the epoxy-coated steel elevated tank about a hundred-meters high, asbestos and cement-coated with steel piping about 8 to 10 inch thick and a hundred kilometer underground – constructed by the biggest contractor in Saudi Arabia, the Bin Laden Group of Companies.
Desperation and constant humiliation
He was at the verge of tears as he reflects that his first son, Arjun, is still small and not yet a preschooler, his second offspring Mara, his beloved wife, Maningning, and his family was still struggling economically, so was the Philippines, right after Marcos was removed from Presidency by People Power in 1986, and he had to go to jail.
The British water treatment engineers in London acting as consultants of his British boss, constantly kept shouting and insulting Engr. Freires, being from a third world country.
The vindication of a true and determined scientist
Engr. Freires defined the problem as hydroxide (OH-) impurities being leaked from the Bin Laden’s distribution pipings, due to the corrosion of steel reacting with water forming ferrous hydroxide. This definition and solution in two formal reports by Engr. Freires with all the analytical evidences was accepted by the Water Committee of Ministry of Defense and Aviation (MODA) in a formal written certificate. The Saudi government requested Engr. Freires to revise the Operations and Maintenance Manual of the 6,000 cubic meters per day capacity R/O plant to include all his chemical reaction in it.
They all bowed down to the ingenuity of a Filipino. It was even his British boss, Mr. David Langdown who relayed the Saudi government’s message to him and gave him the copy of the manual for revision.
The personal and global rewards of Freires’ discovery
Engr. Harry Freires in effect gave honor to his country, the Philippines, and his alma mater, the PLM. His two quadratic equations on bicarbonate buffering (equation #1 – having hydroxides, and equation #2 – proton as impurities) developed out of this life-threatening experience are yet to be written in the books of Chemical Engineering.
He has garnered major awards and recognitions. Among these are: Professional Awardee – 2003 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines together with Mayor Lito Atienza, Manny Paquiao, Tia Dely and others; Best in Process Technology and Engr.neering – 2005, where he bested 76 entries of Inventors and Technology-based Entrepreneurships in a nationwide contest; Finalist, DOST sponsored National Inventors’ Contest – 2006; Official DOST entry for “Kwarizmi International Award -2007, sponsored by Iranian Research Organization for Service and Technology; International Star-Gold Awardee, Paris, France; and Most Outstanding Water Treatment Engineering Company – 2006.
Engr. Harry Freires did not have any idea that what he was manipulating in his R/O Plant (the bicarbonate-buffering) was indeed the alkalinity of the human blood that maintains the acid-base balance in the body, the very substance that keeps the healthy blood of 7.4 pH. Without these substances in the blood we will die, and that after 40 years of age the production of these substances in the body diminishes so we grow weak, rapidly age and die.
After thirteen years, Engr.. Freires came home to the Philippines as a scientist known in the field of Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant. Alas, like steel harnessed in the fire, the threat to his life brought out the best in him, thereby enabling him to produce a Bicarbonate Buffered Alkalinity drinking water from a reverse osmosis water plant – the world’s first Bicarbonate-Buffered Alkaline drinking water, the Sterilized Oxygenated Bicarbonate-Buffered Alkalinity (SOBBA).