Category: News @ Ifugao.

Owning A Heritage

For their children and their children’s children, the real and adopted sons and daughters of Ifugao work together to repair and preserve a world heritage

By ANGELO G. GARCIA

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP – The damaged areas of the Batad Rice Terraces may soon be restored thanks to volunteers, private sector, local and national government’s action to help. (Peth Salvador)

IFUGAO, Philippines — The Batad Rice Terraces is said to be the most beautiful of the terraces in the Ifugao Province. The sloping green terraces on the side of the mountain are nothing short of breathtaking and majestic.

Batad Rice Terraces is just one of the five clusters of terraces that is part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage Site in 1995. The others are Mayoyao; Bangaan of Banaue; Nagacadan and Julongan of Kiangan; and Hungduan.

From the viewpoint, one can see busy workers lined up like hardworking ants, scrambling, carrying stones and buckets of dirt. This is now part of the daily scene in Batad Rice Terraces, especially during weekends, with volunteer-tourists trying to rebuild this World Heritage Site one stone at a time.

In 2001, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras were put under the UNESCO Endangered World Heritage Sites list. This means that the famous terraces are in danger of disappearing. In Batad, for instance, about 40 percent of the whole rice terraces are damaged by soil erosion and abandonment.

But because of the Bachang Weekend Warrior project launched in February, awareness to do something and help preserve the rice terraces has been spreading. The Bachang Weekend Warrior aims to organize volunteer-tourists to help rebuild the damaged portions of Batad Rice Terraces. This is the brainchild of photographer and advocate, John Chua, who also started the group, Photography With a Difference (PWD).

Real Sons And Daughters Of Ifugao

Last Sunday, May 27, instead of spending time with their families, college students Jhayselda Mangui and Carlos Jubabon rolled up their sleeves under the heat of the noon sun, lifted stones, and shoveled dirt around one of the damaged portions of the Batad Rice Terraces. Mangui and Jubabon are members of the Real Sons and Daughters of Ifugao, an organization that is geared towards volunteer work, helping fellow Ifugaos. They are just two of the 43 members who volunteered during that weekend, and their group is just one of the many weekend warriors who have been helping rebuild the Batad Rice Terraces

“We volunteered to do our part as children of Ifugao,” says 21-year-old Mangui, a native of Mayoyao and senior Information technology student at Ifugao State University.

Contrary to what adults perceive, the young people of today are not apathetic and are doing their part to preserve the heritage of their hometown.

“Mahirap, nakakapagod pero alam naming nakakatulong kami sa culture ng Ifugao,” shares 21-year-old Jubabon, a native of Lagawe.

Living Traditions In Basic Curriculum

The people are doing their part to preserve their heritage, not only the terraces, but the native traditions they grew up with. While migration is rampant among Ifugao people, they still teach the kids, one tradition at a time. They are doing this through the Living Traditions integrated in the basic education curriculum.

“Some are exercising their profession so they cannot farm. Although, they care but the question is, do they go back to the farm? Why did we put them to school in the first place? I do not ask you to farm, let the tenants work on it but I would like you to take care of it if there are damages,” Jubabon says.

“When it comes to the rites, it’s already deteriorating. We don’t follow the rites that our parents followed. We don’t do it anymore although we still teach our children, we are inculcating the indigenous ways so we will never forget.”

The Ifugao youth have assured the adult that inspite of modern professions, they still know who they are and what culture they come from.

“Hindi naman ibig sabihin kapag umalis kami wala na rin ang pagka Ifugao namin. Hindi naman ibig sabihin na kapag nag abroad ka puwede mo pa naman i-maintain ang pagka Ifugao mo. Kahit andun ka sa ibang lugar o bansa you can practice ‘yung tradition mo. We know we are Ifugao and we are proud of it,” says Mangui.

Bachang Is Not Dead

Bachang is far from a dead Ifugao tradition, shares Ifugao Governor Eugene Balitang.

“We held consultations initially. As expected, there were negative reactions. Some said it would just commercialize the place. There were doomsayers who said wala na ang Bachang na ‘yan, it’s a dead culture already,” says Balitang.

But the 800 weekend warriors to date who have come from different parts of the country to help rebuild the terraces refuse to believe that Bachang is dead. Working during weekends and in batches, private individuals form their own groups to make the long trip to volunteer for the cause. Different organizations have also pitched in to help make the difference. These include Canon, Mitsubishi Motors, and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprize Zone Authority (TIEZA) that operates Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel, among others.

Because of the initial success of the project, Chua and barangay captain Romeo Heppog happily announced that the local government and private individuals have started contributing their part. The Department of Agriculture (DA) also allotted more than R20 million for the restoration of Batad Rice Terraces.

Rene Bajit, head of the Technical Support Group team of the DA Rice Program is currently coordinating with the workers and volunteers who are working to rebuild the terraces. According to Heppog, their target date of completion is in December this year.

“Now, everybody is working together. The young people are coming in because they feel they want to be a part of it. There’s already consciousness. We will forge unity among Ifugao. When we were thinking of Batad, we were not thinking of Batad alone. We were thinking of all the heritage sites. You first think of one then focus and see if it works,” Chua says.

Next Stops: More Heritage Sites

Last weekend, the Bachang prime movers, including Canon Advocacy Team photographers, set out for another expedition to Ifugao. This time, their target were the other World Heritage Sites of Ifugao.

Another heritage site, the Nagacadan and Julongan Rice Terraces of Kiangan are also in danger. About 40 percent of the rice terraces are damaged due to soil erosion.

“There is help coming from the local government but it is not enough,” shares Maria Galeon of Kiangan’s Bayninan Farmers Association.

Currently, the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office (ICHO) has an ongoing restoration project for the heritage sites. The restoration program in Kiangan only has a budget of R100,000, which barely covers all the damages in the terraces.

The Mayoyao Rice Terraces, on the other hand, have less damage. According to Florence Ponchinlan, the Municipal Planning and Development coordinator of Mayoyao, roughly 10 to 12 percent of their terraces are damaged.

They got an early start with the restoration project under ICHO. It began last March and since then, several stonewalls have been rebuilt. The people of Mayoyao are also taking action to preserve their livelihood and heritage.

“Ang mga tao dito nagtutulungan. May mga tumutulong naman sa mga nasirang terraces. ‘Yung ibang gumagawa parang volunteer na rin kasi ang hinihingi lang nila sa owners eh pagkain kapalit ng paggawa ng stonewalls. Bayanihan talaga,” shares Ponchinlan.

Preserving The Living Heritage

“Our aim is to really preserve the heritage of the Filipino people. These children seem not to care about their heritage but it’s not their fault. Nobody teaches them. If we spread this awareness not just here but also in the lowlands, Bayanihan will start. The Rice Terraces are a living heritage, we should keep it alive” says Chua.

Gov. Balitang hopes that the example of Batad will continue on to the other heritage sites.

“There are five heritage sites and Bachang is just to jumpstart a program for the rest. We’re hoping na magspread siya with other heritage sites.,’ Gov. Balitang adds.

The Ifugao province is currently on its last year of the 10-year terraces restoration masterplan as mandated by UNESCO. Unfortunately, Balitang says that when the UNESCO team inspected the progress of the plan last year, they reported that only 80 percent of the plan have been implemented and there are still a lot to be done as evidenced by the slow restoration of the deteriorating terraces.

(To volunteer please contact Beng Bimohya, provincial coordinator for Bachang project at email address tantanib@gmail.com or PJ Enriquez at Batad Weekend Warrior Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/BatadWeekendWarrior)

[http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/361536/owning-a-heritage]

Category: News @ Ifugao