June 17, 2024

Bontoc, Mountain Province has made official its campaign to preserve and protect the majestic Maligcong Rice Terraces (MRT), not just because it is its most visited tourist site, but especially for its role in causing its inhabitants to become “environmental stewards of such artistic wonder and inspiring them to cherish and protect their captivating landscape for generations to come.”

The municipality of Bontoc, representing Barangay Maligcong and its residents, has filed a petition before the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to declare the Maligcong Rice Terraces as a national cultural treasure under Republic Act 10066 or An Act Providing for the Protection and Conservation of the NCCA and its Affiliated Cultural Agencies and for other purposes.

In its official social media account, the NCCA has posted a public notice on the petition of the Bontoc LGU on behalf of Maligcong barangay, asking those who support or oppose the petition to send their respective positions to the Declaration and Public Heritage Section of the Cultural Properties Protection and Regulation Division of the NCCA through email [email protected]. Public positions will be received until 11.59 p.m. of Sept. 30.

Among the grounds in filing the petition noted in NCCA’s notice to the public is that the Maligcong Rice Terraces’ traditional agricultural cultivation and intangible practices are still intact;

The Maligcong Rice Terraces field stone walls are exemplary examples of vernacular unreinforced slope protection systems paired with practical irrigation systems of the Cordillera people; and

The structures of the village proper of Maligcong Rice Terraces are archetypes of folk architecture of the Bontok people; and that with the continued practice of intangible traditions together with the living tangible components, the Maligcong Rice Terraces displays equilibrium which consummates to its heritage values that may be an outstanding example of a vernacular cultural landscape.

RA 10066 defines National Cultural Treasure as a unique cultural property found locally, possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and/or scientific value which is highly significant to the country and officially declared as such by the pertinent cultural agency.

Bontoc’s petition, signed by Mayor Jerome Tudlong Jr., exudes pride while it explains why the Maligcong Rice Terraces is a unique cultural property possessing the qualities of a national culture treasure.

In their petition’s prefatory statement, Tudlong said the strong sense of culture and tradition unites the local community in preserving the rice terraces as an unspoiled sanctuary amidst the ever changing tides of modernization.

“Since time immemorial, rice is the main crop of the natives of Maligcong. They managed to build their own rice fields which resulted in the creation of the rice terraces. The Maligcong Rice Terraces was built by the strong and firm hands of our forefathers. Their sweat and blood form part in the creation of this wonderful masterpiece. The stones they used to pile up and create the fields are still intact.

However, with the onslaught of natural calamities, some of the fields eroded but were later repaired. These instances represent how the people of Maligcong can be resilient as to the protection and preservation of their treasures. These calamities cannot stop the natives in promoting their world-class tourist site,” Tudlong said in the petition.

He added having been nominated in the prestigious Unesco-Greece Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes only shows that it is something to be treasured and therefore must be declared as one of the national cultural treasures of the Philippines.

In 2021, the municipal council of Bontoc passed a resolution declaring Maligcong Rice Terraces, Atos, Papat-ay, and all other tangible and intangible cultural heritage as cultural properties under the joint control and supervision of Maligcong and Bontoc LGUs and recognizing its significance in the cultural identity of the municipality.

The resolution is in compliance with the guidelines of the NCCA in the declaration of national cultural treasures.

The NCCA, in a comprehensive study and report prepared by architectural and art/history researcher, Ar. Maria Frances Quito, researcher Jeanne Therese Maling, and Ar. Alnie Khayzer Hayudini, head of the Declaration and Public Heritage Section of the Cultural Properties Protection Division, said the Maligcong Rice Terraces is a “living example of a continuing landscape devoted to the cultivation of rice at higher altitudes that still uses traditional techniques inherited from centuries ago.”

The team conducted inspection of the rice terraces on Feb. 6 to 8 this year and submitted their report on March 23.

It concluded the municipal government may petition its declaration as a national cultural treasure or an important cultural property after it is found to have heritage values of national cultural significance and such would foster further protection of the cultural landscape and would prepare it for its holistic development and management.

The report was prepared in response to the request of the Bontoc LGU for technical assistance in conducting evaluation of the rice terraces in relation to the town’s intent to declare the same as a national cultural treasure or important cultural property. 

The report also took note of the results of inspections made by the International Council on Monuments and Sites in September 1995 of all the rice terraces in the Cordillera, including those in Ifugao and Mountain Province, in consonance to the then proposal to inscribe the said properties to the World Heritage Sites list.

Among its findings is that the Cordillera rice terraces are the only monuments in the Philippines that show no evidence of having been influenced by colonial cultures and preserved their authentic tribal culture because of its difficult terrains.

It noted, among other things, that unlike in other rice terraces in the region, rice is the main crop planted by the locals of Maligcong and rice farming is deeply associated with the strong sense of community bond among the villagers that set out its social heritage value. – Hanna C. Lacsamana