Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras: Part 2


Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras: Understanding the Complexity One Step at a Time (Part 2)

It has to be bore in mind that, as a continuing cultural landscape, the rice terraces should be seen and understood in relation to its environment (mountain landscape) and the traditions of its people (rituals, farming practices, beliefs, etc.). Key to better appreciation can be achieved by going beyond the tourists’ viewing points, and taking the effort to walk on terraces’ walls – only then will you realize the size of these structures – and interact with the locals of the immediate communities. Interestingly, the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao, which is traditionally sung during planting and harvesting seasons, are also recognized as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – another testament on how rich the culture truly is.

The traditional Ifugao hamlet in the middle of the Bangaan Rice Terraces.
The traditional Ifugao hamlet in the middle of the Bangaan Rice Terraces.

Until the inscription of the Bali’s Subak System in 2012, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras are the only properties in the World Heritage List that are dedicated to the production of the single most important crop in the world, rice.

What is then the assessment?

The rice terraces, however, also became victims of the disruptive nature and effects of modernization. The Ifugao Rice Terraces (this includes the 5 WHS) have been listed twice as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World by the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and 2010, respectively. These were in response to the two waves of massive abandonment of the rice terraces by local farmers. In the aim to find greener pastures, farmers fled to the cities leaving the rice terraces unattended and crumbling. At the same time, the indigenous local rice strain called ‘tinawon’ that adapted to thrive in such high altitudes was also substituted with “more productive” and “easier to produce” cash crops, creating a serious shift in the integrity of this cultural landscape.

Given the alarming status of the world heritage Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, the properties were also placed in the World Heritage In Danger List in 2001 until significant improvements and reparations were finally secured in 2012.

A Bul-ol, the Ifugao god of harvest, and other wooden crafts by the people of Batad.
A Bul-ol, the Ifugao god of harvest, and other wooden crafts by the people of Batad.

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras represent the larger entirety of the Ifugao Rice Terraces – the five sites are the best embodiment of the rice terraces’ Outstanding Universal Values. The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras will always have a special place in humanity as it was the first set of properties to be assigned as world heritage sites under the cultural landscape category upon inscription. Indeed, these are a magnificent feat of human ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness amidst harshly mountainous, uneven terrains.

For Filipinos, with the farming traditions and the people’s lifestyles largely unchanged, these ancient rice terraces are an enduring portrait of the ways of life of the Ifugao for over 2,000 years.


Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero is a self-confessed cultural junky. Based in the Philippines, he has delivered several talks on tourism, destination promotion and management, and the importance of cultural conservation. As an independent heritage researcher and consultant, he has assisted and appeared in some features by the Euronews, NGC-Asia, and Solar News Channel's What I See travel show. He has traveled (both work and leisure) extensively in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia, and takes high interest in ticking off as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. So far, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, the Temple of Preah Vihear in Cambodia, and the Philippines' Apo Reef and Ifugao Rice Terraces are the best places he has seen in SE Asia. Instagram: theberntraveler

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