Baguio City, June 19, 2003 (MALAYA) Postcards and countless photographs have captured the amazing scenery of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao. In fact, the whole world esteems this attraction as one of its Heritage Sites - a "living cultural landscape" that has cradled a civilization for over 2,000 years.

Many have marveled at the verdant rice paddies that were skillfully carved out of mountains, but few are aware their current state.

Threatened by gradual deterioration, the terraces are now facing a harrowing future, one that is a stark contrast of its glorious heritage. Deforestation has resulted in erosion and the destruction of the irrigation system in some areas, while the changing values of modernization have incited farmers to abandon their land.

About 1/3 of the Rice Terraces are currently damaged, according to the Provincial Government of Ifugao which were declared by UNSECO as Heritage Sites: Kiangan, Hungduan, and Mayoyao. All four sites boast of majestic rice terraces areas amidst misty mountains that have been visited by countless tourists from all over.

The rice terraces are supposed to embody the Ifugao life and a thriving ancient culture, but government officials have noted that the people themselves are neglecting the terraces. Some are now noticeably grassy, non-productive, and have been abandoned. Changing lifestyles have caused some families to pursue other jobs or migrate to nearby provinces, such that the population of Ifugao has decreased, and less people are left to cultivate the land.

The provincial government, pushed by private initiatives, is trying to impress on the people the significant value of the terraces. Time will come when no one will be left to till the land, analysts say, unless aggressive actions are taken to address the irrigation problem. The younger generation should be urged to rediscover their culture in order for them to appreciate and see the importance of the rice terraces. By so doing, not only will the Rice Terraces be preserved, but also the Ifugao heritage, as legacies for the future.

Answering this urgency, numerous private organizations have spearheaded their own campaign to save the rice terraces. Edna Bohol is one such person who has personally taken the initiative to drumbeat the need to save the terraces, by staging a stage a free concert at the Lagawe Central School The concert is one of the many programs to mark "Gotad: the 37th Ifugao Founding Anniversary" which is expected to once again bring in tourists and revelers to Ifugao.

The Bangaan Rice Terraces along the mountain ranges of Bangaan in Banaue is one of the few existing terraces cluster with a village found in the center representing the native Ifugao life. There is also the Hapao Rice Terraces in Hungduan which dates back to AD 650. It is among the few extensive stone-wall terraces in the province, irrigated by winding stone canals. Mayoyao is also a picturesque town with extensive terraces and quaint villages. The terraces are tiered with flat stones, making them distinct from the other terraces in Ifugao.

However, while there are still existing and arable rice paddies, there are also certain spots around the mountains that are apparently damaged or abandoned. Ecologists and environmentalists are now wary of the fact that in the next few years, if no concrete action is implemented, then the Rice Terraces are likely to be de-listed from the UNESCO list, and doomed to further eradication and worst, obliterated from the face of the earth.

In 1994, UNESCO issued a warning to the government that if the Philippines cannot preserve the Rice Terraces, then it will be de-listed from the World Heritage Sites. Consequently, it has been listed among the world's "endangered" sites. Since then, two administrations have passed, and several "master plans" have been crafted to address the problem, but no significant actions have been conducted to revive and preserve the former glory of the Terraces.

As of present, the priority of the master plan is the repair and rehabilitation of the irrigation system and watershed management, since the rice paddies depend on these systems to ensure water flow. An office, called the Ifugao Rice Terraces and Cultural Heritage Office, was formed by the Ifugao local government to facilitate the preservation program. For a start, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has pledged to support the office and its advocacy.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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