By Augusto Villalon
Philippine Daily Inquirer (12/17/2007)
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines received a hearty thumbs-up from international heritage luminaries for its heritage-conservation efforts.
“The future of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera is in good hands,” declared Marc de Caraffe from the International Council for Monuments and Sites (Icomos) of Canada. De Caraffe is also the president of the international organization’s Committee on Vernacular (Traditional) Architecture.
Signifying support for heritage conservation in the country, United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney through the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation supported the meeting but also personally traveled to Banaue to address the meeting and visit the terraces as well.
Icomos is a Paris-based NGO that regulates professional heritage-conservation activities worldwide and is the official adviser to the Unesco World Heritage Committee on cultural-heritage issues.
For the first time, international heritage luminaries joined members of Icomos Philippines in Banaue last week. The meeting coincided with the 12th anniversary of the inscription of five rice-terraces clusters in Ifugao in the prestigious Unesco World Heritage List as “The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera.”
Seven years later, the site was transferred to the World Heritage in Danger List, signifying that conservation measures should be intensified to prevent the site from further decay. This led to Unesco and Philippine experts agreeing on a set of measures to rehabilitate the site.
Respected international specialists arrived from Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Macedonia, United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Japan and Korea to join their Philippine counterparts to meet on “Protecting Endangered Traditional Landscapes,” focusing on the current status of the five terraces clusters in Ifugao inscribed on the World Heritage in Danger List.
The “In Danger” designation simply means conservation measures for a site on the World Heritage List must be stepped up to prevent its rapid deterioration.
The meeting agreed that the five small terraces clusters (Batad, Hungduan, Hapao, Nagacadan and Mayoyao) were endangered because of their physical deterioration but, more important, the resident population, having difficulty bridging preservation of their heritage with 21st-century lifestyle, was leaving the site in alarming number. Case studies showed a similar phenomenon happening in terraced, agricultural heritage sites in Italy, Ukraine, China and Mexico.
Observing the preservation efforts by the Ifugao provincial government and Save the Terraces Movement (Sitmo), foreign delegates praised the success of the conservation and community-development programs, that most of the Unesco-suggested rehabilitation programs were well underway, which led to the consensus of delegates that it would only be a matter of time before the site would be removed from the World Heritage in Danger List and given a clean bill of health.
The consensus was the long-awaited affirmation for us Filipinos. Despite years of negative reports from the media, our heritage-conservation efforts are back on track.
In countries like the Philippines, preserving heritage is really a lost cause unless preservation is made relevant to its host communities by tying it with development and income generation.
Therefore, presented during the meeting were methods that illustrated various ways to sustainably use heritage as a resource for income generation through community tourism programs, craft development, or harnessing natural resources for sustainable development such as mini-hydroelectric plants.
All participants agreed that the physical repair of the terraces was necessary. However, restoring the terraces and its walls must come together with establishment of cultural and economic opportunities that would make terrace life more viable for the 21st century. Among the positive measures suggested by Unesco is the establishment of additional income-generating opportunities such as community-based cultural and eco-tourism programs.
To further illustrate the benefits of tourism for host communities, field visits for the 70-person group to terrace sites were successfully organized by the provincial government and Sitmo in cooperation with the local communities that were profusely thanked by participants for their professionalism.
Conserving heritage has little relevance to most site residents who live from day to day in survival mode. Therefore Icomos aims to make them aware that among the values of heritage is its use (not exploitation) as a sustainable cultural and eco-tourism resource. Therefore, heritage must be preserved as a livelihood opportunity and also to provide community identity.
Successful community-based heritage projects in the Philippines were presented, such as the Cebu Freedom Trail uniting seaside towns in south Cebu province in a trail of conserved heritage and community-led tourism sponsored by Ramón Aboitiz Foundation; Bahandi tourism project by the Bohol community; and Save Ifugao Terraces Movement (Sitmo) community-development programs in Ifugao.
These success stories prove that Filipinos, contrary to popular opinion, have done well in conserving their heritage.
Institutions supporting the Icomos endeavor are the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation, e8/Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company), Fundación Santiago, Ayala Foundation, Ramón Aboitiz Foundation, Department of Tourism, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the National Museum, Cibo di M, and Holcim Philippines.
The construction happening in the landmark Luneta Hotel caused a furor among heritage circles, causing representatives of its new owner, Manila City officials, and heritage experts to meet, agree that the structure should be conserved and that all sectors would cooperate for its conservation.
Instead of angrily marching on the streets, people calmly discuss to come to an agreement on how to save the heritage. This meeting, almost seven years after the Jai Alai debacle, shows a new maturity, having evolved with those who handle heritage. Congratulations to all.