Heritage Conservation Advocates
Speech of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at UNESCO
Delivered on September 29, 2003 during the opening ceremony of The 32nd Session of The General Conference of UNESCO, at UNESCO General Headquarters, Paris, France.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Photography of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by Andrew Wheeler, UNESCO.


Thank you very much, Mr. Ahmad Jalali.

His Excellency Carlo Ciampi, President of Italy; Madame Aziza Bennani, Chairperson of the UNESCO Executive Board; Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director General; Excellencies to the Second General Conference; ladies and gentlemen, good morning, bonjour.

(Arroyo speaks in French)

Let me begin by thanking UNESCO for four recent gestures to promote my country's cultural heritage:

First, its assistance in preserving our thousands of years old Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Northern Philippines. Aside from their wondrous beauty, these Rice Terraces testify to our ancestors sophistication in the science of upland irrigation.

Second, the designation of the Earthsavers dreams ensemble, composed of persons with disabilities, as one of UNESCO’s artists for peace. This ensemble demonstrates that in the Philippines physical disability need not prevent cultural excellence.


Third, the inclusion of our collection of various radio broadcasts documenting the events of our 1986 bloodless people power revolution in UNESCO’s memory of the world register. These broadcasts demonstrate that a great part of cultural heritage is intangible in nature. Music, dance, oral poetry and even historic radio broadcasts. We take this opportunity to urge this conference to approve the draft UNESCO convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage.

Fourth, UNESCO’s assistance to analyze the impact of illegal fishing on the Tubbataha reef in the Western Philippines. Tubbataha reef is number one in bio-diversity in the world today. And its protection illustrates our culture of respect for nature.

On the part of the Philippines, I am happy to report that the Philippine Senate recently ratified the UNESCO regional convention on the recognition of studies, diplomas and degrees. But more fundamentally, today, what I’d like to do is to affirm and elaborate on our country's support for the overarching priority given by UNESCO to the eradication of poverty and to the formation of knowledge societies.

On the eradication of poverty, among the institutions in the U.N., system, the UNESCO embodies the holistic approach to development. As the leader of a developing country face with the challenge of winning the battle against poverty, I firmly believe that empowering individuals holds the key to achieving this goal. Education, culture and the sciences are indispensable tools for empowerment.

Mankind has us made tremendous progress in these fields especially in the technological and scientific field yet progress remains elusive particularly in the developing world.

Conflicts are symptoms of this elusive progress, of the inequities around us. Without meaningful access to economic opportunity, people feel excluded. Exclusion breeds resentment which in turn makes the excluded easy recruits for those who espouse violent means for their own selfish or radical agenda.


My government has adopted a comprehensive approach in the battle against poverty composed of a market environment to create jobs, strong institutions of governance, social safety nets, and agricultural modernization founded on social equity. Education is key to all these components of our war against poverty. We continue to pursue greater international cooperation in education.

UNESCO’s medium-term strategy addresses this issue and we are therefore in accord completely with UNESCO’s goals and implementation programs.

In that regard, my government is pursuing greater access to education by closing the classroom gap and in mainstreaming distance learning. In our developing country with meager fiscal resources, we define closing the classroom gap as building additional classrooms in schools where the student classroom ratio exceeds one hundred to one. In schools where the student classroom ratio is less than one hundred to one but more than fifty to one, we do two shifts for our students and teachers.

We are also setting up the distance learning program in an initial 400 of our poor and far-flung villages. These villages are Christian, Muslim or a mixture, or made up of many other religions and ethnic origins in our country. Because the Philippines is a multi-ethnic society, and so we support UNESCO’s drawing up of an international instrument on cultural diversity.

On the part of our country, I have adopted a policy of institutional accommodation of our various cultural traditions by such policies as empowering the Madrasah schools of our Muslim communities to become part of the formal educational system. In our formal educational system, we emphasize mathematics and science in the new basic curriculum in order to prepare our citizens for gainful employment in the knowledge economy. And this brings us to UNESCO’s trust to form knowledge societies.

The Philippines agrees that we should focus on creating knowledge societies rather than on information societies. What is the difference between the two?

Information societies are too closely linked to the idea of technological innovation alone. While knowledge societies also capture the dynamism and complexity of the challenges we face.

Information societies focus on providing hardware and software. But knowledge societies give attention as well to the human and social systems that must also be transformed for technology to make a difference.

In information societies, the concept of digital divide attaches overriding importance to the physical availability of computers and connectivity. But in knowledge societies, the concept of digital divide is widened to the issues of content, language, education, literacy or community and social resources.


In knowledge societies the concept of the digital divide recognizes that the poor in developing countries remain isolated economically, socially and culturally from the growing content of the arts, science and technology. It recognizes that the problem is magnified by the language barrier because English is used in 80 percent of the websites although only 10 percent of the world speaks the language.

The capital and intellectual responses to this digital divide are steep and this makes private-public partnerships in I.C.T. development imperative.

In our country, there is a project called Pilipinas School net. It is a multi-staged multi-companies sponsored project to enable public schools for a digital economy. It teams up a consortium of companies to connect public schools, public high schools with each other for telecollaboration in curriculum development and sharing of teaching materials. This public-private sector partnership in building bridges to cover the digital divide is being propagated through ASEAN. It has made inroads in the training and curriculum development aspect in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Resolving the digital divide in knowledge societies would require holistic plans and programs covering policy, human capacity, enterprise, applications, content and infrastructure that can serve as catalyst to development. This points to an urgent need for a multilateral institution capable of orchestrating such an effort that would maximize private-public partnership.

UNESCO can be that institution. UNESCO’s mandate after all renders it uniquely able to fight and win the war against poverty through education, science and culture. This conference provides us with the opportunity to move forward in addressing these concerns. I have high hopes that in a spirit of partnership and cooperation we will achieve our goals.

(Arroyo speaks in French)


The next day, after this speech, Arroyo's political ally -- Vicente Yap (葉) Emano of Cagayan de Oro City --inaugurates an illegal bridge that has destroyed a huge portion of Huluga, a cultural heritage recognized by the National Museum.

Speech is copied from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's website. Reprinted here by the Heritage Conservation Advocates, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, November 26, 2003. The words "cultural heritage", "ancestor" and the likes are made bold for emphasis.