Ifugao Rice Terraces: Metaphor for the Filipino people, in danger of destruction unless Filipinos unite to save it

November 8, 2011

Press Release
November 8, 2011

In a two-day conference called “ReImagine: Pilipinas Ugma”, movers, shakers, thinkers, and doers from various sectors of Philippine society converged in Cordova, Cebu to re-imagine the Philippines 25 years hence.

They started by shattering destructive myths and “historical” errors, and also by recognizing that Filipinos need to build and cultivate new metaphors and narratives in order to move the country forward.

One of these metaphors is the Ifugao rice terraces, a 2,000 year-old natural and cultural landmark in the Philippine Cordillera mountain range. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and, according to experts, is the only natural monument in the world not built by slaves.

 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines Chief Executive Officer Jose Ma. Lorenzo ‘Lory’ Tan, a conference participant, also pointed out that if you look at Google Earth, you will see that the Ifugao rice terraces are “larger than the Great Wall of China.”

However, the rice terraces, also known as payo in the local language, are in danger of continuous erosion and destruction. According to a report prepared by the office of Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a total of 102, 663 cubic meters worth of terrace area has been damaged through the decades, and most recently by typhoons Pedring and Quiel. The damage covers 13 barangays, affects almost 2,000 farmers, and is estimated at over P122.65 million.

In 2001, the rice terraces were enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger. One of the conference convenors, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, spoke of the urgent need to save the terraces as a cultural landmark and also as an important source of food and livelihood for Ifugao farmers.

Pangilinan says, “For 2,000 years, the Ifugao rice terraces have helped to shape the culture, identity, and livelihood not only of our brothers and sisters in the Cordilleras, but also of the Filipino people. They have become symbols of ingenuity, our vision, our rootedness in nature, and the value of community, among others. We cannot allow the rice terraces, as well as these values, to be eroded over time. These help define our being Filipino.”

“At this critical point, we need to do CPR on our natural reserves: Conserve, Preserve, And Restore our springs of life (bukal ng buhay, tuburan sa kinabuhi)”, says environmental lawyer and activist Antonio “Tony” Oposa.

A sentiment that kept surfacing throughout the conference was about how the payo is a testament to how ordinary people can build extraordinary things, which, according to participants is exactly what is being asked of Filipinos at this juncture in history.

As a metaphor, the payo also symbolize how people and leaders can work together as equals toward a common goal. It was pointed out that, for 2,000 years, the Ifugaos built, planted, and cultivated through the payo a sustainable system that nurtured both their cultural identity and provided food security.

“In the payo, I have found my anchor and I am not letting go,” said educator Dave Saceda of Dumaguete.

Aside from all these, Pangilinan pointed out, it is important to preserve the Ifugao’s traditional methods of upland rice farming and sustainable communal agriculture, and more importantly, pass on this knowledge to future generations of Ifugaos, as these are sources of huge tourism and economic impact that will also improve the incomes of the Ifugao folk.

“We cannot kill the Ifugao farmers’ source of life, culture, and pride,” Pangilinan exhorted. “We must do whatever we can to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the payo and make sustainable living out of them. We owe it not only to them or to ourselves, but to our ancestors who have entrusted the rice terraces to us over the last 2,000 years.”

A multi-sectoral fund-raising effort is now underway to help fund major repairs on the rice terraces, as well as to support community programs that encourage young Ifugaos to continue stewarding the rice terraces for future generations.

For more updates on these efforts, interested parties may follow the “Save the Ifugao rice terraces campaign” page on Facebook or @saveIRT on Twitter. Those who wish to help may also email [email protected].