Friday, April 16, 2010

New concrete Batanes houses ‘with doors’

In 1996 Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) dispatched a mission of Filipino and foreign anthropologists, archaeologists, and heritage experts to the Batanes islands on a one-week survey to determine whether the site was of World Heritage caliber.

Positive was the answer. The entire Batanes archipelago had potential. Therefore in 1997 the mission recommended a financial grant from Unesco in Paris to begin nomination preparations.

World Heritage Areas embody the diversity of the planet and the achievements of its peoples. They are places of beauty and wonder; mystery and grandeur; memory and meaning. In short, they represent the best Earth has to offer.

World Heritage sites are universally significant areas deserving of protection and preservation by both Unesco and the site’s host country against the threats of aging, globalization, or ravages of man by unwarranted modernization, industrialization or war.

The nomination process for World Heritage inscription is a lengthy, detailed process. Practically completed are all nomination requirements for Batanes. But, for the past five or so years, the nomination somehow still lacks that elusive 5 percent to complete the last hurdle of the process.

Completed during the World Heritage preparation process was the essential introduction and passing of local legislation to protect Ivatan cultural and natural heritage.

The required in-depth site documentation uncovered a wealth of cultural (man-made) heritage in Batanes, ranging from archaeological sites that substantiate the claim of a continuous Ivatan culture as far back as 400 BC to burial grounds with boat-shaped burial mounds akin to those of prehistoric Vikings that demonstrated the existence of a seafaring people.

There is the unsurpassed natural beauty of the Batanes islands with the surviving Ivatan villages of stone-and-thatch houses, the only examples of such type of architecture in the Philippines so totally in tune with the harsh environment of the islands.

Batanes is one of those few places where the man-and-nature continuum, which shows how the population is so in tune with its environment, is still preserved.

Preciosa Soliven writes: “The fabled Batanes stone houses is nowhere to be seen in Basco, the capital city of Batanes. But, our major outing to Dr. Florentino Hornedo’s (respected Ivatan scholar) island of Sabtang, less than an hour after a pump boat trip, gave us that treat.

“Our first vision of Sabtang was like a postcard with the lighthouse perched on the rocky promontory and the very old white Spanish church of San Vicente Ferrer.

“We took a leisurely walk around (Hornedo’s) hometown of Savidug and saw the traditional houses, laid out in neat rows. They all look the same including that of Flor’s.

“They are door-less houses with low open windows that could also serve as entrance. He said that a ‘door-less house is a poor man’s house.’ Unless one gets ‘security of job,’ he cannot leave his poverty. That is why when an Ivatan leaves his family to work abroad, he will be determined to save so that when he comes home, he could construct a new house with a door.”

And that’s what is happening now in Savidug. Prosperous Ivatans have come home to construct a ‘new house with a door.’”

Ivan Henares writes: “For those who are not familiar with Batanes heritage, the villages of Savidug and Chavayan on Sabtang Island are the two most intact villages of vernacular Ivatan architecture, showcases of the Sinadumparan and Maytuab styles of houses.

“These new hollow-block houses being constructed will most definitely destroy the unique architectural fabric of Savidug.”

According to architect Joy Mananghaya of the Unesco National Commission (Unacom), “There are ordinances protecting the heritage of Batanes. Almost all municipalities have their own ordinance.”

If the local governments of Sabtang and Batanes care about the inscription in the Unesco World Heritage List, could they do something about preserving the local heritage of Batanes and enforce existing ordinances?

Tourism is the obvious benefit of conservation, and despite seasonal and travel difficulties, Batanes has made its mark on local tourism.

Unlike Batanes, Bohol, now acknowledged to be the premier tourism destination in the Philippines, recognizes its heritage as the basis of its tourism industry and the entire population goes to great lengths to conserve their heritage, something that seems not to be grasped in Batanes.

Heritage, if properly maintained and managed, is a valuable income-generating resource as the communities in Bohol and the Rice Terraces have found.

There are benefits to conservation indeed, which the Batanes community still fails to realize.

And inscription in the World Heritage List increases arrivals, as studies prove, although increasing arrivals is not the single raison d’être for World Heritage listing. Preserving heritage for future generations is.

E-mail your comments to (Augusto Villalon, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

For background information on the Sabtang issue, please read: Batanes heritage in danger!

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