The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (Unesco) holds its annual meeting in different countries, offering its members and observers a chance to experience heritage in diverse global settings.
The 21 committee members are elected among the 1,400 participants from 190 states that are party to the World Heritage Convention.
The convention sets policies and guidelines for its implementation, and also to inscribe worthy nominations to the World Heritage List, which now numbers close to 1,000 properties.
This year, the 37th Session of the World Heritage Committee was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with all the delegates and participants going to Siem Reap for the last two days of the meeting. There the impressive closing ceremonies were held at the Elephant Terrace in the splendid ruins of Angkor.
During the meeting, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental was proposed by the Philippines for inscription on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Within the area is the nesting habitat of the majestic Philippine eagle which forms an integral part of the wildlife sanctuary.
The five previously listed properties are Tubbataha Reef; Baroque Churches of the Philippines (San Agustin, Intramuros; Santa Maria and Paoay in Ilocos Sur and Norte; Miag-ao in Iloilo); the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park; the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera; and the Historic City of Vigan.
Mt. Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary “contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation biological diversity, including threatened species of outstanding universal value,” states the nomination document. “The property is home to at least 1,380 species, of which 341 are endemic.”
Making Mt Hamiguitan universally outstanding is its soil mineral—rich in magnesium and iron—that is unfavorable for normal vegetation growth, stunting fully grown trees into bonsai-like plants.
Despite its difficult growing conditions, the wildlife sanctuary hosts a large number of plant species that are found only on the site.
The Davao Oriental provincial government and local residents have joined forces to protect Mt. Hamiguitan Wildlife Sanctuary. Most notable is the cooperation between government authorities and the three indigenous communities of the area in conserving the property.
There was a strong delegation to the World Heritage meeting headed by Ambassador Cristina Ortega, who heads the Philippine delegation to Unesco in Paris, including Secretary Patricia Licuanan of the Commission on Higher Education; chair Felipe de Leon Jr. of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts; Michael Manalo and Eric Zerrudo from the Culture Committee of the Unesco National Commission of the Philippines; and architect Joy Mananghaya, who is World Heritage consultant for both Unesco International Committee on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) and the Unesco National Commission of the Philippines.
Underscoring the Philippine commitment to the conservation of Mt. Hamiguitan was the presence of Davao Oriental officials led by Gov. Corazon Malanayon; tourism consultant Cynthia Rodriguez; National Commission for Indigenous Peoples head Marilyn Yu; and professor Roy Ponce.
The World Heritage Committee requested additional technical information from the Philippines, and upon presentation and committee acceptance of the added information, the property will be considered for inscription during the 2014 meeting to be held in Bahrain.
Another highlight of the Philippine presence in this year’s World Heritage Committee Meeting was “Pamana,” an exhibition on Philippine World Heritage.
Designed to promote not only the five World Heritage properties in the country, the exhibit also highlighted Philippine strengths in World Heritage that have put the country on the global forefront of community-based conservation of heritage properties.
Foremost in community-based conservation are the efforts of the people of Ifugao who have worked together to revive traditional methods of terrace preservation, an effort noted by the World Heritage Committee last year when it removed the Rice Terraces from the World Heritage “In Danger” list. Its citation recognized the outstanding community effort that revived the endangered property.
In November 2012, the Historic City of Vigan was awarded by Unesco for Best Practice in Heritage Management among all historic cities in the world. Cited again was the outstanding community-based effort which made conserving heritage in Vigan a sustainable and participatory effort of its citizens.
The awards and citations received by the Philippines from Unesco in affirmation of the country’s conservation efforts are validation of the long involvement of the country in World Heritage since its 1991 election to serve a four-year term on the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee.
Contrary to what many think, the inroads made by the Philippines in conserving its national and cultural heritage have made strong impact on the global conservation scene.
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