Download Ask any Filipinos about the wonders of the world and they will proudly name the Rice Terraces.
5,000 feet above sea level in the country’s north, the hand-carved terraces are locally dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world”.
They’ve been listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1995 – but they’ve also been on the World Heritage Endangered List for more than 10 years now.
Severe drought, flooding, erosion and neglect are ruining the terraces.
Now tourists are being invited to become ‘warriors’ in saving this world heritage site.
Madonna Virola travels up the winding mountain roads to visit.
We’re at Banaue Viewpoint, the highest mountain peak in the area, with a group of local and foreign backpackers.
From here we have a panoramic view of the terraces.
”These terraces were built freely by our forefathers. If you notice where they built the terraces they just followed the contour of the mountains, so they look like giant stairways climbing up going to heaven.”
This is Hygelac Cayong, our guide.
”The whole area of Banaue is more or less 21,000 hectares and the rice field covers 40 percent of it. The remaining parts are forest land, and some are resettlement areas or build up areas.”
According to last year’s government assessment, half of the terraces need restoration.
Last November John Chua, a renowned photographer, posted pictures of the rice terraces online – showing damaged fields, broken irrigation structures and collapsed stone walls.
The images grabbed people’s attention.
Chua initiated a “Weekend Warrior” campaign in one part of the terraces – and more than a thousand tourists have joined since the program started last month.
It’s a volunteer program, or “bachang” in the local dialect, inviting tourists and locals to help rebuild the area.
Hygelac Cayong explains how they’re repairing the stone walls.
”What we have done was gathered all the rocks, we put up the rocks, so the experts in stonewalling will be the one to put it in right place.”
Physical damage isn’t the only threat.
The number of farmers is falling, as young people choose to study or pursue a career in the big cities. Without farmers, no-one will maintain the terraces.
Officials were unable to give an exact figure of the number of young farmers left in the area.
Samuel Abig, in his late 40s, comes from a local farming family.
“When I was a child, I remember these farms were all beautiful. People had a good livelihood. But several years later, some of the farms were abandoned because young people left the place for their education. People migrate. Also the other farmers have grown old to work on their land.”
Local environment officials have asked the government to subsidize maintaining the terraces by hiring other farmers, if local owners abandon their land.
Antonio Gayumma is the municipal engineer in the area. He says they’re working with farm owners to rebuild the terraces.
”In those abandoned rice terraces, we ask the owner to till it, but if they don’t want to, the local government will be the one to till it. Then half of the produce will go to the owner, the other half will go to the government. We devise a system. We piloted it late last year, and it’s a continuing activity.”
Things are looking up, with civic groups, tourists, and the government all helping out in the restoration effort.
Initial repair funds of almost 500,000 US dollars have been allocated by the national government. The local government also plans to seek funds from UNESCO.
Local parliamentary representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr., chair of the House committee on cultural communities, has sponsored a bill that provides guaranteed funds for restoration and maintaintenance work.
22-year old Prue Earl Bayungan’s family owns one of the rice fields.
”I appreciate the rice terraces even more now. When I was in college, my peers would identify me with this wonder, and I would be proud. Now I’m back in my hometown after finishing my studies. As a sign of my gratitude to my ancestors whose hard work gave us this unique and world class legacy, I will still keep our small farm. I want to tell the next generation to maintain the wonders of the terraces, including the people who live here.”
01) wonder of the world: keajaiban dunia
02) hand carved terraces: sawah bertingkat berukiran
03) grabbed people's attention: menarik perhatian orang
04) severe drought: musim kemarau yang parah
05) forefathers: nenek moyang
06) stairway: tangga
07) exact figure: jumlah yang pasti
08) livelihood: mata pencaharian
09) dubbed: dijuluki
10) peers: teman sebaya/rekan-rekan
01) What has been dubbed as the eight wonder of the world and where is it located?
02) How large is this site and why is it also on the World Heritage Endangered List?
03) What is the HOw much is the UNESCO repair funds?
04) What is the "Weekend Warrior" campaign and how have responded to it?
05) How much money has the government allocated for the initial repair funds and whar is Teodoro Bagugilat doing to help
preserve this historical site?