Saturday, March 11, 2006

What's next for UNESCO?

After that blunder by some local government officials from Batanes last year, we will have to wait again another year until a new Philippine site is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. They thought they could handle the inscription process on their own, purposely left out all the experts who prepared the bid of the Batanes Protected Landscapes and Seascapes, and got a painful rejection from UNESCO. What were they thinking? It turns out, the papers were simply not in order and had they included the heritage people involved in documenting Batanes, it would have been listed with UNESCO last year. Sad part is there is a limit to the number of sites listed per country per round. And because of Batanes' deferment, the slot meant for another Philippine site in the next round will be used by Batanes. Oh well!

I chanced upon a list of proposed UNESCO World Heritage sites. I've always known that Batanes is the next Philippine site for inscription in the prestigious list. There are more candidates on the shortlist and it may take several years before we get them in the UNESCO list. Sad to say, I've only visited one of the proposed sites, the San Sebastian Church which I will talk about in my next entry. But I wonder which churches will be included in the listing Jesuit Churches of the Philippines and and which forts in Spanish Colonial Fortifications of the Philippines since I may have seen some of them. Let me try to ask Fr. Rene Javellana since those groupings are actually books which he had written, namely "Wood and Stone for God's Greater Glory: Jesuit Art and Architecture in the Philippines" and "Fortress of Empire: Spanish Colonial Fortifications of the Philippines 1565-1898."

Another proposed site are the Angono Petroglyphs were declared a national cultural treasure under Presidential Decree No. 260 of President Marcos in 1973. Together with the San Sebastian Church, both sites were included in the biennial World Monuments Watch: List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 1996 and 1998 respectively.

Most of the sites are featured in the book "The National Parks and Other Wild Places of the Philippines," which came out during the term of Gemma Cruz-Araneta as DOT Secretary. These are Batanes, Mt. Pulag National Park (at 9, 586 feet, Mt. Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon) and Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in Luzon, the El Nido Marine Reserve, and the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao which is one of four Philippine sites listed in the RAMSAR List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The tenth site listed is the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary in Tawi-tawi. Composed of six islands in the Sulu Sea, the marine park is part of a transnational protected area together with Malaysia that is believed to be the only remaining nesting islands for Green Turtles in the ASEAN region.

Another proposed listing which I've been hearing about but not found in the tentative list are the Spanish Lighthouses of the Philippines, many of which are featured in the book of Arch. Manolo Noche entitled "Lonely Sentinels of the Sea: The Spanish Colonial Lighthouses in the Philippines."

I guess the Philippines has a long way to go in raising the consciousness of its citizens on the importance of preserving heritage. But what can we expect from a Third World country which obviously has more pressing needs? That is why heritage conservationists have to be vigilant in protecting what is left of our built heritage resources. Because when the time comes that Filipinos are mature enough to realize why heritage needs to be protected, there might not be much of it left to appreciate.
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