De-listing Ifugao Rice Terraces an Empty Threat – Ifugao Gov

Dismissing the threat by UNESCO to remove the Banawe Rice Terraces from the list of Heritage sites, Ifugao Gov. Teodoro Baguilat said, “The Ifugao people who are actually the stakeholders of the Heritage site must unify in the efforts to maintain the terraces as an agricultural land for food sustenance and as a source of identity and pride as a people.” These values must merge, he said.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 32, September 16-22, 2007

BAGUIO CITY (246 km north of Manila) — Ifugao Gov. Teodoro Baguilat dismissed as an empty threat the  move of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to strike off the Ifugao rice terraces from the World Heritage List, saying the Ifugao people are not affected.

Baguilat, who was in town last week for the two-day national forum on disaster management, said the Ifugao people are not affected by the proposal to remove the terraces as a world heritage site. He said it was the national government which signed a covenant with UNESCO which is aimed at preserving the rice terraces as a model for sustainable agriculture. “The national government should address international benchmarks for heritage site,” he said.

Baguilat clarified that there are at least four municipalities maintaining rice terraces, namely Banaue (Batad and Bangaan), Mayaoyao (Mayaoyao Proper), Kiangan (Nagacadan) and Hungduan (Hapao).

This week,  Baguilat met with UNESCO representatives to discuss the “threat” after Carmen Padilla, commissioner of the Unesco National Commission of the Philippines (Unacom) claimed that the famous man-made rice terraces carved majestically from the Ifugao mountains might no longer be a world heritage site if the government fails to restore its natural grandeur in two years.

During his meeting with UNESCO in Manila Baguilat said he requested UNESCO officials to explain in detail the benchmarks being used as basis in keeping the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the World Heritage List.  He surmised that the UNESCO benchmark was crafted without consultation with stakeholders from Ifugao, whom he claimed know best what is the status of the rice terraces and what are the efforts being undertaken by the villagers to preserve the terraces. “We want to know if the UNESCO benchmarks are doable.”

Democratizing the gains

The Ifugao people, who are actually the stakeholders, of the Heritage site, Baguilat said, must unify in the efforts to maintain the terraces as an agricultural land for food sustenance and as a source of identity and pride as a people.  We must blend these values together. This, he said, must be understood by the national government.  The government should not view the terraces merely from the point of view of aesthetics and tourism.

Baguilat said there are people in those rice terraces.  “They own it. They live there and get their livelihood from the terraces,” Baguilat clarified, saying government should not take the development of the rice terraces as a separate issue from the people’s lives.  He also said the national government should look at how the local government is doing things, adding the central leadership could not come up with a doable plan without consulting the people first.

The Ifugao rice terraces are primarily agricultural lands, according to Baguilat.  “These provide people with food.  It is where culture emanates.  You cannot divorce it as a source of identity and pride, now that it has been in the World Heritage Sites List,” he stressed.

As a heritage site, the Ifugao rice terraces have become an international property, which belongs to the world, said Baguilat, adding he wanted to blend all these images together but foremost, he wanted to preserve them for the people living there.

Restoring the stonewalls, enticing the planting of rice

The governor said the provincial government is prioritizing the restoration of stonewalls of the terraces, from the benchmarks to maintain its international stature.  UNESCO reportedly gave the terraces two years to live up to its name lest it would be stricken out of the list.  Among the conditions is land use zoning, to which Baguilat iterates the indigenous systems of determining land use.

Baguilat reacted to the notion of land use zoning, which reportedly intended to remove tin-roofed concrete houses allegedly blocking the view of the terraces.  He said the old Ifugao folk also frown at building houses on the rice terraces, but no one could dictate where the people would build their homes and the type of building materials to use.

In recent years, tourism-driven government initiatives proposed the removal of houses allegedly obstructing the view of the terraces. Tourism authorities also mulled at a uniform design for the residences to give the terraces an authentic native village character.

Baguilat reportedly received a call from a highly placed government official questioning (the lack of) political will in the implementation of tourism plans for the rice terraces. He said the bigger problem of the rice terraces is the out-migration of indigenous peoples from the province.

“Who is going to maintain the rice terraces (if people keep on going out)?,” Baguilat stressed during the interview.  He said there are no livelihood opportunities in the province that is why the people tend to look for jobs elsewhere.  Most go abroad or flock to the cities in search of better opportunities.

Even Vigan City Vice-mayor Francisco Ranches expressed concern over the rumored de-listng. He said, “the new generation of Ifugaos is not so keen in tilling their ancestral lands. Most of them migrate elsewhere to seek for greener pastures.”

The World Heritage Committee in 2001 inscribed the Rice Terraces in the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, joining 32 other endangered World Heritage Sites. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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