Philippine rice terraces no longer in danger

Posted at 06/26/2012 8:54 PM | Updated as of 06/27/2012 2:22 PM
Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNNews.com

MANILA, Philippines - The World Heritage Committee on Tuesday removed the Philippine Rice Terraces in Ifugao from its List of World Heritage in Danger.

The Philippines has successfully restored the terraces in a desired state of conservation, the 36th Session of the World Heritage Committee said.

Aside from restoring the terraces, local authorities have also undertaken their protection, planning, and proper management.

The international body said the Philippines has restored at least 50 percent of the collapsed terraces.

The required documentation and rehabilitation of major irrigation systems at the site has also been completed, it added.

The World Heritage Committee also said policies and laws preserving the site are now in place.

Community-based land use and zoning plans are being developed, and measures ensuring the site’s proper management and its protection from natural disasters had been implemented, according to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) official.

“This decision is a historic moment for the Philippines,” said Ambassador Cristina Ortega, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO.

“To have the international community recognize our commitment and effort in reinstating the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in the World Heritage List is, for us, a great honor and accomplishment. Its removal from the List of World Heritage in Danger reinforces anew its grandeur and relevance as a globally important cultural landscape,” she added.

The centuries-old rice terraces, which are found in the Cordilleras, are considered as a global cultural treasure.

The UNESCO said the rice terraces represent the “fruit of knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, and the expression of sacred traditions and a delicate social balance.”

UNESCO said the rice terraces show a “landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.”

They became became the first-ever property in 1995 to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List.

However, 6 years later, the rice terraces were placed in the endangered list.

Neglected systems and migration

During its 25th session held in December 2001 in Helsinki, Finland, the World Heritage Committee said the rice terraces were threatened by neglected irrigation systems and migration.

It also warned against unregulated developments in the site, lack of focus on tourism requirements, and a weak management system.

Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNNews.com

 The International Committee on Monument and Sites (ICOMOS) warned that "a worrying percentage of [the] rice terraces had deteriorated; springs had dried up and deforestation within the watershed had occurred; subsistence farming and limited alternative economic opportunities had forced many Ifugaos to seek work elsewhere; and traditions and rituals associated with the cultivation of rice had been disappearing.”

The Philippines established the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office (ICHO) to save the terraces. It closely worked with various groups, such as the provincial government of Ifugao and the non-profit Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement.

The groups managed to help restore the rice terraces and their watersheds, while promoting or re-introducing the site’s ancestral traditions that are crucial to its sustained development.

The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (UNACOM), meanwhile, joined forces with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DAR), National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to map out programs to protect the terraces.

UNACOM secretary-general Dr. Virginia Miralao thanked various organizations and individuals such as Governor Eugene Balitang, rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr., the past and present members of the UNESCO NatCom Cultural Committee, various international UNESCO units, IUCN, and academic institutions such as UP, UST and Ifugao State University for helping restore and protect the terraces.