Post Conference Report: 2007 CIAV Meeting

The ICOMOS National Committee Philippines successfully hosted the 2007 meeting of the ICOMOS International Committee on Vernacular Architecture (CIAV), held last 2-8 December at the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, a UNESCO World Heritage site. International heritage experts, members of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) participated in the event.

ICOMOS is the official international organization of heritage conservation professionals involved in heritage conservation and who are recognized as international leaders in the field. It regulates the worldwide conservation profession and is the only NGO accredited to advise the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on cultural heritage matters. Its headquarters is in Paris and its Philippine members are prominently involved in conservation projects for the government or private sectors and are also members of the academe.

The conference was unveiled with a welcome dinner organized at the National Museum. Sumptuous dishes were shared as the hosts presented their welcome remarks to the numerous distinguished guests and delegates of the conference. Respected heritage specialists from Canada, Italy, Finland, Germany, United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Japan and Korea joined their Philippine counterparts in the welcome event.

Following this was a long day trip to Ifugao, with heritage specialists and experts looking forward to seeing the rice terraces that is of great beauty and majesty.

Reaching the Ifugao province, a tour and site visit was organized, showing the delegates Hungduan’s Abatan-Hapao heritage cluster site, one of the 5 priority sites that was identified in the UNESCO World Heritage inscription. The participants were overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscapes surrounding them. They were hosted by the Mayor of Hungduan, Hon. Pablo Cuyahon. The first site shown to the delegates was the Hapao heritage cluster. The delegates noticed the number of structures dispersedly strewn on the terrace paddies. He explained the development of the place and said that during early times, the houses would be built together in clusters, but due to population increase, the paddies were ultimately used for house building.

In the five cluster sites, the heritage clusters of Nagacadan-Julongan, Abatan-Hapan, Bangaan and Batad are found clustering of houses called boble. These clustering of houses are located near rice terrace paddies to facilitate management of work, and is also near a muyong or a private forest, usually owned by community members of the boble.

Following this, the delegates were indulged with the view of the spider web terraces as they passed through them going to the to Hungduan’s Municipal hall. The spider web is known to be an interlacing of rice terraces that are weaved together in a pattern of a web. This pattern in clearly discernable from a birds point of view.

Reaching Hungduan’s Municipal hall, a delectable lunch buffet with traditional rice and Filipino dishes was served for the guests’ content. This was followed with the beating of Ifugao gongs and dances by Ifugaos in native costumes. Guests willingly accepted requests to dance.

This site visit was also enriched as the group went to Banaue’s museum of Ifugao culture where the Otley Beyer collection was unveiled to the participants. Artifacts ranging from historic literature to heirloom beads and ceramics and Ifugao wooden cultural implements were showed to the delegates. They were also amazed at the ingenuity of the Ifugao as an Ifugao house artifact was presented to them, with its design mostly made of wood without nails.

Similarly, the group trekked to Ujah village preached high up in the mountains of Banaue, where young Ifugao youth enjoined the participants for a tree planting session. Again, dances were performed and the delegates were invited to join in the festivities.

The conference session proper started with the delegates sharing their experiences on the protection of endangered traditional landscapes. The meeting focused on the current status of the 5 terrace clusters located in Ifugao province inscribed in the World Heritage in Danger List. The “In Danger” designation simply means that conservation measures for a site on the World Heritage List must be stepped up to prevent its rapid deterioration.

The foreign heritage specialists who participated in the conference are Architect Valeria Prieto of ICOMOS Mexico who is the Secretary of ICOMOS-CIAV. She shared her experiences and brilliant ideas in the conservation of Purepecha settlements and their traditional trojes that are found in Michoacan, Mexico. Likewise, Prof. Mariolina Besio of the University of Genoa, Italy who was sent by the World Heritage Centre presented the Cinque Terre Cultural Landscape, a vineyard terraced site that is presently experiencing various challenges of change related to tourism and development.

Marc de Caraffe of ICOMOS Canada, Chairman of ICOMOS-CIAV presented a talk entitled ‘Hot Fuzz, Wild Cats and Telephone Poles’. Architect Esteban Prieto of ICOMOS Sto. Domingo on the other hand shared the ‘El Bohio, Expresion de Arquitectura Vernacula y Recurso Turistico Cultural de la Republica Dominicana’. Toyota Matsuoka of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) presented the Ambanghal Mini-hydroelectric Project in Ifugao, which is presently in its feasibility stage. Proceeds from this project will help in the conservation of the rice terrace heritage cluster sites.

Similarly, Ron Anthony a wood preservation expert of ICOMOS-USA presented ideas on wood science and technology, which are very much helpful as most vernacular heritage buildings in traditional landscapes are made of wood. Dr. Christoph Machat of the University of Munich and ICOMOS Germany shared his experiences in the protection of cultural landscapes and presented a power point presentation of the different terraced landscapes in the world. Another German heritage specialist, Kirsten Malezer of ICOMOS Germany talked on ‘The Inheritance of the German Settlement Movement in the Ukraine’. She sought solutions from plenary on how to preserve the vernacular houses found in the Ukraine German settlements, which are similarly facing challenges of sustainability and continuous use, as the residents opt to move to cities, leaving behind these precious heritage buildings.

Likewise, Architect Natsuko Akagawa of ICOMOS Japan presented management strategies that were employed in the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama in Japan. She shared the different charters that were applied in the conservation of these Japanese cultural properties.

Successful Philippine heritage efforts were also presented such as the cultural mapping of some of our heritage sites in the Visayas and Mindanao. The Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMO) on the other hand shared its community development programs in Ifugao province, while the Provincal government of Ifugao presented to the body the different strategies of conservation and management of the rice terraces and culture of Ifugao. Some of these are its programme on the documentation, processing and transmission of Ifugao’s Indigenous wherein UNESCO Japan has financed the first phase of the IK transmission programme and has recently approved the second phase. Through this assistance from UNESCO Japan, SITMO has started the mapping of traditional knowledge holders and for its second phase, it is currently developing a course on IK with the Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry. It will also develop a module for the teaching of elementary and high school education, integrating IK, which will be undertaken with the DepEd.

SITMO also presented its efforts for the preparation of the pilot Community-Based Land Use project for Nagacadan, Kiangan, one of the five priority heritage cluster sites in the WH List. Its recent success in holding eco tourism projects revived the Bakle festival of Nagacadan and with it was the organization of eco tours that brought tourists to the place, enjoying the festival, the dances, rice pounding and the place’ traditional food specialties such as the binakle and the baya.

SITMO has also been involved in Sustainable Agriculture Programmes, with the promotion of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) with pilot farms in Kiangan and Lamut. It won a grant through the Panibagong Paraan competition that holds a two-year biodiversity cum SRI promotion for four towns. And through its partnership with the International Kutzu Green Sannan (IKGS) of Japan, it has started a two-year project entitled Kiphodan di Payo, Kiphodan di Muyung, which includes the establishment of nurseries for indigenous species in Mayoyao, Asipulo and Kiangan. It has also worked on interventions to minimize out-migrations of Ifugao people through the Kiphodan project wherein the dojo fish promotion and rabbit production are encouraged, hoping to tap restaurants in Manila for their use and consumption.

One of the most important efforts of SITMO is its programme on renewal energy, having garnered a finalist award in the International Ashden Award for Renewable Energy for the development of its micro-hydro program. This involved the repair of the Bokiawan Micro-hydro plant in Kiangan, the improvement of the Sustainable Energy centre at the ICHEC and the continuation of the Tungdo Micro-hydro plant in Maggok, Hungduan.

Likewise, Fundacion Santiago’s Chaco Molina shared his insights on community development, centering on the numerous projects that this NGO has undertaken. Molina presented its vision through its two-fold mission statement that is represented by its Pamana (Cultural Heritage) and Pag-asa (Social Development) programs. Its mission statements push for the contribution to a strong grasp of national identity by the promotion and sustainability of historical awareness among Filipinos, by using this sense of self and of shared purpose as one of the foundations of national development. It also pushes for the contribution to true, sustainable and equitable national development through the promotion of entreprenuership and commitment to community among economically marginalized Filipinos, particularly those in the countryside.

Fundacion Santiago has partnered with PHILDRRA, a national network of 65 rural development NGOs that builds models of sustainable development in the different communities they serve.

One of the projects undertaken by Fundacion Santiago is the preparation of the Master Plan for the revitalization of the historic center of Vigan, another UNESCO WH site. This project was supported by the Government of the Kingdom of Spain and the Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion Internacional (AECI), the DOT and the City Government of Vigan. It included such projects as the Integrated Water Supply and Management System, the Materials Recovery Facility for the Vigan Integrated Solid Waste Management project, the Metal Craft and Food Processing project for the University of Northern Philippines, and so much more. This Master Plan is serving as the tool for guiding local government and other agencies in the coordination of efforts related to development and the preservation of the WH site.

Molina particularly pointed to the role of community development facilitators, whom he said are supposed to guide work in the project. He stressed the importance of ‘letting go’ when the community feels that it is able to stand on its own. He said that at a certain stage in a project, ‘we’ should not feel bad if we become irrelevant because this means that we have done something good and that the project and the community can now stand on its own.

Molina also stressed out that community workers are catalysts of change and that ‘hope’ has to be transmitted to the people, equated through pesos and cents. He also said that the promotion of community based heritage tourism is an instrument for alleviating poverty in a site. He said that heritage is seen by the community as being theirs and that it should not be perceived as an irritant, but should bring cash to the people.

The Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) likewise shared its projects of restoration of historical monuments and buildings. These success stories prove that the Filipino, contrary to popular opinion, has actually done well in conserving his heritage.

As discussions on the rice terraces centered on the natural and cultural condition of the landscape and the necessary steps and strategies to address the challenges of conservation, the delegates agreed that restoring the terraces and the culture that comes with it must go hand in hand with the establishment of cultural and economic opportunities that make terrace life more viable for the 21st century. Among the positive measures suggested by UNESCO is the establishment of additional income-generating opportunities focusing on community based cultural and eco tourism programs.

Several conferences held in the past that were organized by UNESCO have already identified strategies to meet the challenges of conservation in the rice terraces. These are all incorporated in the Conservation Management Plan of the Province of Ifugao.

This ICOMOS meeting’s sub-theme of identifying methods in the use of the underutilized rice terraces as a resource to increase present income levels of its residents, strengthened and enhanced the already identified strategies. This was realized when the delegates gathered together in workshops held on the last day of the conference. They further augmented the already established strategies with great and interesting viable and doable solutions for the sustainable development of the heritage cluster sites. The conference came about with the awareness that conserving heritage in traditional landscapes has been challenging to most site residents who aim for a change in quality of life that is in contrast with their present day life.

Some of these great new ideas that came out of the workshops aim to make life in the terraces much more livable. These are the packaging of the entire cultural landscape as a product for cultural tourism; the identification of incentives such as special taxes and subsidies that will encourage the people to preserve the terraces; the development of a global vision for cooperative movement for the rice terraces; and the encouragement of lightweight construction methods that continuously use traditional methods and avoiding concrete and concrete blocks. The delegates likewise underscored the need for zoning and land use in the heritage cluster sites. They also reiterated the need for the preparation of design guidelines as new buildings are being constructed in concrete and concrete blocks that totally contrasts with the beauty of the landscape.

Ifugao’s Provincial Governor, Hon. Teodoro Baguilat Jr.’s similarly shared his vision for the rice terraces conforming the suggestions of ICOMOS and the already established recommendations of UNESCO. He centered on the provision of basic needs and economic development for the people while beefing up on the advantages of conservation. He likewise stressed on the utilization of heritage as tourism resource. Baguilat said that this could be achieved with the development of low land municipalities in the province, proceeds of which shall support the conservation of upland areas. The upland areas will then be the resource for tourism and heritage. He however said that restrictions cannot be imposed on the people and that land use and zoning will indeed identify areas for development and for preservation. He encouraged novel ideas for the conservation of the rice terraces.

Although the atmosphere of the conference was serious and focused on issues of conservation and management of traditional landscapes, an interesting thing happened during the session proper. Several delegates noticed that those who presented at the stage’s podium would be teary eyed as they were delivering their talks. Some of these were the US Ambassador, H.E. Kirsty Kenney, the Japanese delegate Architect Natsuko Akagawa and some of our local participants who presented papers at the session proper. People were already talking about the incidents, and in the last day of the session proper, some delegates decided to investigate by going to the podium themselves. Those who went sensed that some kind of strong energy was effecting them to be teary eyed. The energy was so intense that some felt sad and depressed, while others felt light yet affected by the intensity of it all. They decided to approach Tony Perez, a known personality in spirit questing. He said that the one causing the energy was a tree spirit, a ‘capre’ as it is called in the vernacular. According to him, this tree spirit lived in a big tree that was felled during the construction of the hotel and it felt sad about the felling. The delegates and Tony Perez went to the stage and held some kind of prayer for the tree spirit. One of the delegates sensed that what the spirit wanted was some offering of soil.

It would be interesting to note that some of the local delegates have personal experiences about trees. One of them, Landscape Architect Susan Ong is a tree conservation advocate who fought for the stoppage of the felling of a giant dao tree in UP Los Banos. Another heritage conservation advocate and very young and vibrant litigation lawyer, Atty Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto shared stories about trees being cut in her hometown in Cebu and the bad things that have happened to the persons initiating the felling. Being a member of ‘inner dance’, she thought it necessary to offer prayers to the tree spirit.

Altogether, the tree spirit incident brought the group together, with some of them offering prayers, an orange and a traditional musical instrument of bamboo at the podium prior to leaving for Manila. Some surmised that the rice terraces, its beautiful environs and this particular tree spirit incident brought them together, invigorating them all with the consciousness of working for a common goal, which is the conservation of heritage.

At the end of the conference, the ICOMOS meeting further strengthened the idea that heritage must be preserved not only to provide community identity, but also as a livelihood opportunity that could be achieved through the use (not exploitation) of its the values as sustainable cultural and eco-tourism resource.

The other objective of the meeting, which is the training of Philippine practitioners, was also met as members of youth organizations came, joined and learned from the conference discussions. Since only a few conservation courses are offered in Philippine universities, ICOMOS Philippines envisioned that the presence of foreign colleagues is a rare opportunity for ICOMOS Philippine Committee members and other heritage professionals to widen their personal international network and to upgrade professionals.

On December 7, 2007, the delegation went back to Manila passing by Dupax church in Nueva Vizcaya, a National Cultural Treasure. Organizers showed them the restoration of the baptistry and two magnificent columns, all of which are ornately decorated in relief stucco.

The delegates who were revitalized and brimming of energy and great ideas are hopeful that the rice terraces and other traditional landscapes will be in good hands as everybody seek and work to conserve and maintain them for the present and the future generations. (Prepared by Ma. Joycelyn B. Mananghaya)