Let me start
this paragraph with a date: September 29, 2003. This is two months ago.
It may look insignificant, but on this day, Philippine president Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo went to Paris to attend the 32nd Session of the General
Conference of UNESCO.
There’s no news that I can recall
about this attendance. I must have missed the papers, but I saw this
event only in the UNESCO website. On this day, our president delivered
speech during the opening ceremony, praising UNESCO for recognizing
and preserving Philippine cultural heritage.
Following is Arroyo's speech. Words relevant to heritage
issues are capitalized:
Thank you very much, Mr. Ahmad Jalali.
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 (speaks 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.
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.
Arroyo went on to define knowledge
societies, and to talk more about education, science and culture. Anyone
who heard this speech must have received the impression that we in the
Philippines are absorbed in cultural heritage activities. They don't
know that the next day, September 30, 2003, Arroyo’s political
ally -- mayor Vicente Y. Emano of Cagayan de Oro -- inaugurated an illegal
construction, a bridge built without an Archaeological Impact Assessment
(AIA), without consulting any cultural workers, and despite protests
from the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA). This bridge and the road
leading to it, as we know very well, have destroyed a huge portion of
the Huluga Open Site, our legally-protected ancestral home.
Arroyo knew about this destruction three months
before she gave the speech. On June 28, 2003, the HCA gave her a letter,
a primer on the Huluga issue, and an 8x12-inch
composite photograph that shows the destroyed heritage site. Arroyo
then sent her adviser, agriculture secretary Luis Lorenzo, to meet the
leaders of HCA in Cagayan de Oro. We gave him the same documents, the
same large, educational photo, and a request to stop the illegal project.
But nothing has happened so far. The bridge continues, Huluga remains
unprotected, and the people irresponsible remains untouched.
So, what cultural heritage promotion are we talking about? What respect for our
ancestors? What kind of knowledge societies are we building when UNESCO people
are deprived of knowledge about this illegal, destructive project?