MANILA, APRIL 10, 2006 (STAR) By Preciosa S. Soliven - The Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras is a World Heritage Site (WHS), one of over 800 in the world and one of five in the Philippines.

The World Heritage Center (WHC) requires a lengthy investigation accompanied by archeological, sociological, educational and economic reports of the site before it is included on the WHS list. Former UNESCO Commissioner architect Augusto Villalon, with archeologists, geologists, and historians, made up the local team together with experts from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). They prepared the dossiers of the Rice Terraces including the baroque churches of Ilocos, Iloilo and Intramuros, as well as the two natural heritage sites in Palawan – the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The study averaged 10 years before the UNESCO panel of WHS evaluators accepted them into the WHS list.

Since these wonders of the world may date back centuries before Christ, an exclusive classification known as the List of WHS in Danger was drawn by ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), IUCN (World Conservation Union) and ICCROM (International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property). Three agencies that complement the World Heritage Center office. The main purpose of the center is to protect these heritage sites to uphold the unique cultural character and pride of each nation. Thus, in 2001, the Ifugao Rice Terraces was included on the endangered WHS list. We have only five years left to restore the site to its original and authentic state, otherwise it will be removed from the WHS list.

WHC director Francesco Bandarin repeatedly reminded us that "Being nominated as an WHS cannot be compared to winning a beauty contest for it imposes a state obligation."

For this purpose, UNESCO Paris has initiated meetings of local stakeholders who will be responsible for looking after the site. Archeologist Richard Engelhardt, UNESCO Asia Pacific adviser for culture, and his assistant, engineer Ricardo Favis from Ilocos have conferred with the governor, councilors and barangay captains of the five Ifugao Rice Terrace clusters twice in 2003 and 2004.

In the meantime, as early as 1998, the European Union (EU) funded a five-year CECAP (Central Cordillera Agricultural Program) study of the agricultural status of the preservation of the rice terraces, while the Japan Bank International Cooperation (JBIC) simultaneously surveyed the setting up of a mini hydroelectric generator to make electricity accessible to far-flung villages in Ifugao.

The local Department of Tourism, Department of Agriculture, the Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as various NGO institutions concluded that they should work closely together to attract the young Ifugao college graduates to work within their province.

Noting that foreign tourists keep coming despite inadequate advertisements, the preservation of the rice terraces goes hand in hand with brisk tourism business. Therefore, agronomists could complement the limited special mountain rice (Tinawon) harvest with the rich botanical species of the mountains.

The Ifugaos are hardworking people. This is reflected in the impressive craftsmanship of their woodcarvers, who in spite of poverty, will not sell their family lands. Hungduan and Kiangan are two of the five clusters of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, which specialize in woodcarving. National Artist for Sculpture and UNACOM Culture Commissioner Napoleon Isabelo Abueva had a woodcarvers’ workshop in April last year to encourage them to work on more saleable designs.

A project of the UNESCO Culture Committee headed by Commissioner Carmen Padilla, Hungduan Vice Mayor Pablo Cuyahon helped organize the woodcarvers in preparation for the culminating activity – a month-long exhibit and bazaar in November last year. The brainchild of the author, secretary-general of UNACOM, the exhibit-bazaar, entitled "Preservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces Through Its Woodcarving Industry" at the Department of Foreign Affairs lobby, quickly sold 85 percent of the sculptures and large stylish furniture to the diplomats – a clear evidence that the Ifugao woodcarving industry is part of a sustainable eco-tourism strategy in the conservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces. Bamboo Culture Festival The Bamboo Culture Project, a nationwide festival, is a UNESCO Participation Programme initiated by the Culture Committee to propagate the bamboo plant and its creative promotion for new cultural industries from traditional architecture to folk arts, crafts, music and cuisine. When she chaired the UNESCO Culture Committee, former Senator Leticia Shahani encouraged the project, which was followed through by current Culture Committee chairman Carmen Padilla with Dr. Loreto Gloria as its project director.

A seminar on bamboo potentials with agricultural scientists, architecture proponents and village backyard bamboo tree farmers was held at the University of Sto. Tomas College of Architecture auditorium. Attended by various universities, among which were UST, Manuel L. Quezon University, Technological Institute of the Philippines, Technological University of the Philippines and Philippine Normal University, the special speaker was architect Francisco Mañosa, whose expertise helped construct the monumental bamboo Philippine Expo Center at the Seville International Fair and the bamboo altar backdrop of the papal visit at Rizal Park.

According to the Maragondon Society of Bamboo growers, a hectare of bamboo would yield P250,000 since this fast-growing tropical wood has high commercial value. Bamboo can become as strong as metal if allowed to mature for at least four years.

As a follow-up of the seminar, a contest among second-year architecture students was held, culminating in the judging and exhibit at the Silahis Center in November and coinciding with the "Bamboo Culture Festival," an exhibit of bamboo arts and crafts at the Galeria delas Islas at Silahis Center, Intramuros.

Bob Lane, exhibit curator and owner of Silahis Center, mounted the exhibit artistically. The objective of this exhibit is "to showcase the vast potentials and artistic utilization of bamboo in Philippine arts and crafts," according to project manager Dr. Loreto Gloria.

After the inauguration, a reception was held at the grand ballroom of Ilustrado, a restaurant famous for elegant service and ambiance reflective of Philippine culture. The guests enjoyed the performances of P. Gomez Elementary School Himig Kawayan and the PNU Angklung Ensemble. The former used local bamboo percussion instruments, while the latter used Indonesian angklung instruments.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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