Heritage Conservation Advocates
Photo of Elson T. Elizaga TupaArroyo Speech at UNESCO
By Elson T. Elizaga

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 a 1,000-word 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.

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 (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.
Arroyo speaking at UNESCO. Photo by Andrew Wheeler.
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?


Published by the Heritage Conservation Advocates, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, 2004. Elson T. Elizaga is a writer and photographer. He lived with a Hanunuo Mangyan tribe for two years. Today, he is co-owner of Nazca Graphic Design & Photography, and secretary of the Heritage Conservation Advocates.
Home | Email