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A peek to Cordillera homes turned tourist sites
by Rimaliza Opiña

As with any other traditional house in the Philippines, huts used to abound in many parts of the Cordillera. Common materials used were of course those that abound in the locality.

For Cordillerans, their houses are not mere dwellings. Aside from a place to rest, their houses also say a lot about their traditions and culture.

Common features of Cordillera huts are the absence of nails that would secure all the materials in place; a fireplace and a rice storage area. Cordillera huts are compact, what with its usual one room design, and multi-functional according to William Henry Scott in his book, “Cordillera Architecture of Northern Luzon.” He said these huts are sturdy and designed to conform to a mountainous setting.

Compared to the bahay kubo, Cordillera huts are insulated, to keep away moisture, which is a usual occurrence because of the cool weather, Scott said.

A compilation by the National Library of the Philippines describes Cordillera huts as built on areas typical of the surroundings of a certain tribe. It said the Bontoc fay-u has high roofs; the Kalinga binayon or binayan to some has a low roof and the Ifugao bale has a “sculptural treatment” patterned after the rice terraces. For the Isnags of Apayao and Tingguians of Abra, Scott said their houses are similar to the more famous bahay kubo, probably because they live closer to the lowlands, which require that their houses should be airy. Materials used were “lowland timber” and bamboo, Scott said.

Among these houses, the more famous perhaps are those built by Ifugaos. “The Ifugao generally locate their houses and villages on their ancestral lands, amid their rice terraces, along hillsides and valleys, and near springs or groves. Usually built close to each other for mutual protection, there are usually 10 houses in a small village and up to as many as 40 or more in a big village. They are grouped organically rather than lineally, in interesting arrangements where house, terrace, and the surrounding vegetation blend harmoniously,” Scott observed.

Through the years, demand for a house that would last for years and personal preferences for those that incorporate the sections and amenities of a modern home resulted in diminishing number of traditional Cordillera huts.

For the few that were left, some were converted into homestays – an alternative lodging facility usually for tourists who want to experience what it is like to stay in one of the traditional houses of Filipinos.

In Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province, the bale, fay-u or binayan/binayon are the common lodging facilities in areas that take hours of hiking before it can be reached, such as in Barangay Batad in Banaue, home of the amphitheater-like rice terraces and de facto “poster boy” of rice terraces in the Cordillera.

Among the frequented tourist houses/villages in the region are Helen’s Guest House in Mayoyao, Ramon’s Homestay in Banaue, Hungduan Heritage Village in Hungduan, and the Pula and Cambulo native village, located in the first leg of the trekking route from Banaue to the Bangaan Rice Terraces, all in Ifugao and Capnay House in Bauko, Mountain Province.

Replicating a vanishing heritage

While the traditional houses have become ubiquitous to someone who sees it often, to most outsiders, the huts speak of a heritage that is in danger of vanishing if not preserved.

In 1998, a group of Baguio-based artists organized the Chanum Foundation and acquired a property in Pinsao Pilot which they later transformed into an artist’s village.

Called the Tam-awan Village, several Ifugao and Kalinga huts were reconstructed with the intent of making these accessible especially those who cannot visit the hinterlands of the Cordillera.

Doubling as exhibit area for their works of art, Chanum Foundation started by transporting three knocked down huts from Bangaan village in Ifugao and rebuilt them at Pinsao. The original materials were used and then installed at the area resembling a traditional Igorot village.

Tam-awan Village is also home of the three remaining traditional octanogal houses of the Kalinga.

Today, Tam-awan is one of the frequented tourist destinations in Baguio.

In the eco resort operated by a businessman in Baguio who traces his roots in Mountain Province, Ifugao and Kalinga huts are also present in the Winaca Eco-cultural village in Tublay, Benguet. Like Tam-awan Village, it also built a Sagada-Bontoc house; a Bakun, Benguet house; and an Ifugao house. These houses are rented out for tourists.

Inspired by the architectural genius of Igorots, several modern structures in the region have been patterned after these huts. The Ifugao Museum; the Open Air Museum at the Nagacadan Rice Terraces; the Philippine War Memorial Shrine all in Kiangan, Ifugao; the Bontoc Village Museum in Mountain Province; the Maharlika Livelihood Complex and Baguio Convention Center in Baguio are some of the buildings with designs patterned after the Ifugao huts.

In some areas, the huts have also become a centerpiece in their towns such as in Poblacion, Bontoc, and Besao, both in Mountain Province.

Ancestral homes have also been converted into tourist destinations. In Abra, the ancestral home of Don Quintin Paredes has been transformed into a museum.

In 2013, the National Historical Institute installed a marker at his stone house in Bangued. Installation of the marker is in honor of Paredes’ championing of civil liberties. The Abra native is the author of the Magna Carta of Labor, became Manila City Fiscal, attorney general, secretary of Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senate President pro tempore and Senate President. 

In Tayum, Abra is the ancestral house of Don Teodoro Brillantes – a private museum containing the family’s collection of artifacts dating back to the Spanish era.

In Baguio, most notable are the white and green cottages reminiscent of the city being a hill station. But like any of the old houses, many have also given way for new constructions.

At Barangay Cabinet Hill-Teachers’ Camp are cottages that are maintained up to this day. Except for the cottages at Teachers’ Camp, use of the cottages is restricted to visiting Cabinet officials from Manila.

Recently, Baguio Heritage Foundation Inc. trustee and former National Planning and Deve-lopment Authority regional director Joseph Alabanza expressed alarm over the changing landscape at Cabinet Hill. Notably, the cottages of the departments of Public Works and Highways and Labor and Employment have been demolished to give way to multi-story office buildings.

In one forum where the BHFI was panelist, Alabanza said it would not be far off that soon, other cottages will be demolished for taller buildings. He appealed government agencies that own these cottages should continue maintaining them as such.

Architect Rey Mina, architect II of the DPWH-CAR said the agency decided to demolish the old quarters due to wear and tear.

“The old structure was already deteriorating. It was leaking; the wood was rotting. It was not safe and already unsightly,” Mina said so the DPWH, under then secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, decided to build a modern building, able to accommodate more departments and personnel. The secretary’s cottage however, is still being maintained and used by personnel from their central office.

Mina said the upgrading is also part of the nationwide campaign for government offices, buildings, and policies to be ISO certified.

Conservation efforts

Nonetheless, Mina said conservation of old structures could be a case study for Architecture students.

The DPWH is also not oblivious to the fact that heritage structures have to be preserved.

In December last year, Sec. Rogelio Singson signed Department Order 138, instructing all offices under the DPWH to coordinate with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in the implementation of projects that would affect landmarks. “To ensure protection of historical sites and prevent delays and revision of vital projects during construction, all DPWH offices are directed to coordinate with NCCA during the conduct of feasibility studies for the design and improvement of projects,” Singson said.

“Relics are national treasures which must be preserved, restored, and enhanced for the benefit of future generations,” he added.

Aside from the DPWH, the Baguio-Boracay Task Force in one of its meetings, suggested for the city government to come up with a policy mandating a uniform color for every house in the city – an idea that Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan is not entirely opposed to, but said the city government has yet to hammer out such policy.

The idea then was to make houses along hill sides still look attractive like in Santorini, Greece or Tuscany, Italy, instead of them looking like trash when seen from afar.

In other parts of the region where houses with galvanized iron as roofs are slowly inching their way into the countryside, several municipalities are coming up with a land use plan incorporating restrictions in the construction of houses.

In Kiangan, Ifugao, one of the cluster of Unesco-inscribed rice terraces, use of iron sheets as roofs is restricted at areas near the rice terraces.

For the president of the Baguio-Benguet chapter of the United Architects of the Philippines, conservation including that of heritage homes is a contentious issue among architects.

“Among architects (conservation) is an issue and a problem,” side Arch. Aries Go. He said on the economic side, historic structures have less value compared to an aggregate of new buildings. He said this is made complex by lack of knowledge in restoration.

He said lack of space also makes it difficult to restore old houses. Go said for practical reasons, some old structures have to give way and preserve only those that have historic or emotional significance. “Unless the NCCA could do something in the restoration of all old structures.” 

He said what needs to be done is to help people realize the value of identity and history. Without these, Go said “foreign culture” would dominate local culture and eventually would fade away. “The implication is, in the future outsiders will create their own destinations. They will bring their own sensibilities and infuse it, eventually swallowing up the identity of Baguio."

He said what needs to be done now is make efforts in preserving the past and also move forward by building structures that would also last for the future generations to see.

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