The Philippine campaign to protect the Rice Terraces scored a major victory on June 26, as the 36th Session of the World Heritage Committee formally removed the site from the List of the World Heritage in Danger.
The committee, composed of 21 of the State Parties to the World Heritage Convention, decided that the Philippines had successfully met the Desired State of Conservation. The factors affecting their decision included successful landscape restoration and conservation, protection and planning and proper management.
According to the international body, the Philippines achieved the restoration of at least 50 percent of the collapsed terraces and the required documentation and rehabilitation of major irrigation systems in the site had been accomplished.
The body also noted that policies and laws preserving the site were 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.
"This decision is a historic moment for the Philippines," said Ambassador Cristina G. Ortega, Philippine Permanent Delegate to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (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."
"For Filipinos, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras best embody the harmonious relationship between humankind and nature. More than 2,000 years ago, the Ifugao community of the Philippines built the terraces in a strong spirit of cooperation and mutual respect," the Ambassador added
According to UNESCO, 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 further extols the significance of the Rice Terraces, saying it is a "landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment."
In 1995, the Rice Terraces became the first-ever property to be inscribed in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List. But six years later, the Rice Terraces was officially listed as one of the world's treasures that humanity risked losing forever.
Danger in losing heritage
During its 25th session held in December 2001 in Helsinki, Finland, the World Heritage Committee announced that the Rice Terraces faced serious risks.
The committee said these threats include 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.
Other conservation bodies, such as the International Committee on Monument and Sites (ICOMOS), observed: "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."
In response, the country established the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office (ICHO). The office has worked closely with various groups, such as the Provincial Government of Ifugao and Non-profit Group SITMo (Save the Ifugao Terraces Monument).
Over the years, the collaboration has systematically conserved the rice terraces and its 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, took the lead in harmonizing the work and support of national agencies that are mandated to conserve heritage.
These groups include the 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).
A great deal of hard work, coordination, patience and perseverance went into our efforts to remove the Rice Terraces from the List of World Heritage in Danger," said Dr. Virginia A. Miralao, Secretary-General of UNACOM.
"The spirit of kinship and partnership that created the Rice Terraces centuries ago is well and alive," she said. "Thanks to the contribution of many persons and groups, including Governor Eugene Balitang, Congressman 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, among other partners."
Ambassador Ortega, meanwhile, also thanked the country's technical experts led by Architect Augusto Villalon and Ma. Jocelyn Managhaya, for their valuable contribution to the rehabilitation efforts.
She, however, said that the highest recognition should be bestowed on the communities living within the Rice Terraces.
Members of the Philippine observer delegation to the Committee's Session include Ambassador Cristina Ortega (Head of Delegation), Architect Augusto Villalon, Professor. Eric Zerrudo, Architect Ma. Joycelyn Mananghaya and Ms. Rosalita Prospero.