Legarda: Mining threatening Ifugao Rice Terraces

The Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened not just by erosion but also by small-scale mining, Senator Loren Legarda said Monday as she filed a resolution asking the Senate to investigate.

The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed the Ifugao Rice Terraces as an endangered World Heritage site since 2001. The degradation of the rice terraces has been blamed on earthworms and rats that burrow along the walls of the rice paddies. Typhoons have also contributed to their destruction.

Now, Ifugao is in danger amid suppsoed mining activities in the area.

Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, was in Ifugao earlier this month to consult with local leaders on how to reverse the degradation of the rice terraces.

During consultations there, the provincial government of Ifugao told Legarda about illegal mining in Hungduan and Aguinaldo towns along the terraces. She also cited news reports of illegal mining in Hungduan and Banaue towns. Miners are reportedly looking for gold and other minerals.

Although the People's Small-Scale Mining Act allows "mining activities which rely heavily on manual labor using simple implement and methods and do not use explosives or heavy mining equipment," this is banned on land identified as ancestral domain. The terraces and surrounding forests are the ancestral domain of the Ifugao people.

"The encroachment of illegal small-scale mining operations in the Ifugao Rice Terraces further puts a threat to the already rapidly deteriorating state of this heritage site," she said.

Legarda has called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board  to act on the reported illegal small-scale mining along the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources should meanwhile look for "remedial measures to ensure that the Ifugao Rice Terraces, the centuries-old heritage of our indigenous peoples, are sustainably-protected," she said.

The government has set aside around P30 million for the rehabilitation of the rice terraces. The Department of Agriculture will give P20 million, with another P10 million coming from the office of Senator Francis Pangilinan. The National Rice Program will also give P1 million for restoration work.

During restoration, 300 to 500 workers under the Social Welfare department's cash-for-work program will be tapped to rebuild collapsed walls along the rice terraces.

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