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Why cultural heritage needs to be preserved
Jane Cadalig

SOURCE OF PRIDE. Pure ingenuity and industry brought forth a breathtaking masterpiece that are Ifugao’s rice terraces, spread over its five villages. It is the areas’ cultural heritage that have also courted international recognition with its incription in the Unesco list of herigate sites. -- HFP

When heritage conservation advocates raise arms against the dismantling of old structures to give way for the construction of buildings with modern designs, their grounds must not be disregarded. Genuine conservationists have one valid reason in opposing projects that adversely affect old structures: they want to preserve society’s symbol of the past.

The same concern should be accorded to the efforts done to protect, preserve, and uphold traditional beliefs and practices.

For the Cordillera, a region that prides itself of having unique customs, conservation measures must be given utmost attention – by the people – with their leaders at the forefront.

Why preserve cultural heritage?

Cultural heritage preservation is not exclusive to the Cordillera or the Philippines. Nations around the globe have been initiating measures to preserve their cultural heritage. Cultural heritage provides people or communities a sense of unity and belongingness, aside from the economic development that will ensue from cultural tourism.

According to the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), an organization advocating the protection and preservation of Philippine built heritage, preserving significant structures, historical, and cultural sites and settings maintains a society’s links with its past.

Heritage, it adds, is a proof of the Filipinos’ political history and socio-economic development, a reflection of our shared values, and is a tangible proof of the people’s excellence and creativity.

“Heritage conservation enhances progress and modernization – from urban revitalization and community housing – to the revival of traditional crafts and the stimulation of entrepreneurial activities. It awakens our pride of place, arousing cultural historical awareness, which often advances cultural tourism,” the HCS adds.

A source of knowledge

and national pride

A well-preserved cultural heritage makes a country part of humankind’s diverse culture, while maintaining the identity of its citizens. It becomes a source of pride of a nation and its citizens.

When the Philippines hosted the International Conference on Protecting Endangered Traditional Landscapes way back in  2007 in Banaue, Ifugao; participants; which were composed of international conservationists, architects, and experts on traditional landscapes expressed admiration at the industry and craftsmanship of the Ifugaos in being able to carve the rice terraces out of the mountains using indigenous know-ledge.

The Ifugaos have always taken pride in the ability of their ancestors to build those magnificent landscapes, which have courted not only for Ifugao, but also the Cordillera and the Philippines, an international recognition with their inscription in the Unesco list of heritage sites.

The terraces, spread out in five villages of Ifugao, have also become the major tourist-drawers of the province.

The rice paddies have always been compared to the Cinque Terre agricultural terraces of Italy, which are also the major tourist destination in that part of the country. Located in the Ligurian coast of Italy, Cinque Terre’s ancient vineyards, also spread out in five villages in that region, boast of centuries-old cultural landscapes that have also earned for Italy a Unesco heritage site inscription.

While the two cultural landscapes differ in location, one being in a landlocked region and the other in a coastal area, they, just the same, fulfill similar roles – being sources of national pride and bringing income to communities for being major tourist destinations.

The rice terraces are only a part of Cordillera’s contribution to the country’s repository of tangible cultural heritage. There are a lot more of Cordillera’s cultural heritage that continues to rouse a great deal of interest from visitors all over the globe.

In Kabayan, Benguet, the centuries-old mummies are also among the town’s tourist-drawers. Home to Luzon’s highest peak, Kabayan is one of the few towns that provide its visitors cultural education. Literature and artifacts preserved at the branch of the National Museum in the town allow visitors to understand the ancient practice of preserving the dead – the process of mummification. Knowledge gained from the museum can be supplemented by a trip to the Timbac Caves, considered the burial grounds of the preserved bodies.

The burial caves and the hanging coffins of Sagada, Mountain Province also offer tourists a glimpse of how the i-Sagada of olden times laid their ancestors to their final resting grounds.

These grounds, while considered by communities as sacred sites, have become places of interest and sources of cultural education for visitors.

LGUs as frontliners in protection and conservation

Cultural heritage preservation is not a tough job. It is not rocket science. It only needs political will of people who were given the mandate – local officials or the local government units, in general.

In fact, Section 33 of the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 encourages LGUs to incorporate programs and budgets for the conservation and preservation of cultural properties in their environmental, educational, and cultural activities.

Dionisio Pangilinan, chief administrative officer of the National Museum, said the success of cultural heritage protection and preservation relies heavily on the cooperation of LGUs.

“It is very important for LGUs to know that they have major roles in protecting and preserving our culture,” he said.

Pangilinan was among the participants during a forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, which gathered national government agencies to present their insights on Cordillera’s bid of becoming an autonomous region.

Pangilinan said as the Cordillera strives to attain self-rule, LGUs should put the same effort in protecting and preserving the region’s rich culture.

The National Museum is one of the agencies that are at the forefront of protecting the country’s cultural heritage through its various preservation programs, by conducting researches, and through education.

At present, the agency is working with the local government of Kabayan in protecting the Timbac Caves, the home of the famed centuries-old mummies.

Pangilinan said LGUs in the Cordillera can help protect and preserve the region’s rich cultural heritage through regulation, done mostly through the enactment of ordinances by the LGUs’ legislative branch orthrough the issuance of orders by the LGUs’ executive department.

Creation of offices that will handle culture-related affairs, like that of the Ifugao Cultural Heritage Office, will also help ensure programs towards cultural heritage protection and conservation are sustained.

While museums are helpful in the preservation of items of cultural significance, these institutions can only do as much.

Gemma Estolas, assistant curator of the Baguio Museum, said museums exist primarily for education. The items displayed in museums; whether these are of cultural, scientific, or artistic relevance; are generally for the education of the public.

Baguio Museum, for one, provides a good showcasing of the Cordillera culture. It displays a variety of Cordilleran artifacts – from ancient implements and musical instruments and traditional attires and accessories, to remains/mummies to miniatures of traditional houses.

The challenge however is that museums are not the main institutions responsible for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage.The job lies primarily with the people, the communities, and the LGUs.

Another thing, even if museums are repositories of items that have cultural or artistic relevance, these institutions cannot just collect these for the sake of collecting.

“It is a (breach) of a museum’s ethics to just keep on acquiring items, especially if they are not really part of our collection,” she said.

Rewards of preservation

Heritage conservation advances cultural tourism, which in turn stimulates economic activities in the communities.

“There is money in culture (preservation),” Pangilinan said.

For example, Pangilinan said the ethnic attires of the different ethno-linguistic groups of the Cordillera already provides livelihood to those who weave the costumes. This goes the same for those who design modern clothing accentuated with ethnic motifs.

Handicrafts, like that of the Ifugao woodcarvings, that have made their way to souvenir shops, also generate livelihood, while preserving and passing on the art of carving wooden items to the generations to come.

Weaving traditional attires keep the traditional skills and craftsmanship alive among generations.

Initiatives towards preservation of cultural heritage

Cordillera LGUs can learn their lessons from other local governments that have initiated measures to protect and preserve their cultural heritage.

In Benguet, the province has a Cultural Affairs Office, under the Office of the Provincial Governor, tasked to enhance the appreciation and preservation of the rich cultural heritage of the province; conduct cultural awareness programs; and participate and engage in activities for the development of the community.

Bokod, also in Benguet, has passed an ordinance that organized a group that aims to help tourists appreciate the town’s culture.

In passing the ordinance, local officials have realized the need for Bokod to have a group that will help promote the town’s cultural heritage, through performances and other means, during programs or as the need arises.

The cultural group is mandated to depict and demonstrate the importance of the town’s culture and be able to make a good understanding, awareness, and appreciation of Bokod and its people.

Also, the Provincial Board of Benguet is currently deliberating on an ordinance that listed sites in the province that must be added in the identified heritage areas. The main goal of the ordinance, which passed its second reading, is to protect the areas in the province that have cultural and historical significance.

In Ifugao, the provincial government formed the Ifugao Rice Terraces and Cultural Heritage Office to facilitate preservation programs for the rice paddies.

In the lowlands, much is to be replicated in how Vigan City in Ilocos Sur was able to preserve its Hispanic colonial character and has advanced its economic development through cultural tourism.

For being able to preserve its rich history and cultural heritage, Vigan City has been named in 2015 as one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the world together with Beirut, Lebanon; Doha, Qatar; Durban, South Africa; Havana, Cuba; Kuala Kumpur, Malaysia; and La Paz, Bolivia.

Vigan City is also one of the Unesco World Heritage cities.

One of the city government’s initiatives in maintaining its rich historical value is the passage of ordinances that are primarily geared towards the preservation and conservation of the city’s ancestral homes, among other measures.

For Baguio City, which prides itself as an American heritage city, much remains to be done in preserving traces of this city’s American colonial character.

But colonial or not, the efforts towards preserving markers of our past must be given serious attention.

These duties are among the responsibilities that await the new sets of officers who will be taking their seats in June.

They may not be able to pass all the needed measures, but they can initiate some regulations to preserve Cordillera’s cultural heritage, at least during their three years in office.
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Cordillera Kidney Specialists, Inc.
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Overseas Workers Welfare Administration
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Pines International Academy Inc.
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