No. This is not The Manila Times’ new travel section. This is still your favorite motoring page, Fast Times. You must be wondering why we are showcasing the spectacular rice terraces of the Ifugao province in this spread, along with photos of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines (MMP) executives and members of the motoring press turning over gifts to Batad townsfolk. This article is about a long drive to the boonies of Ifugao to revisit a very noble project, initiated by a well-known photographer, to rebuild the infamous rice terraces of Batad, which were damaged by erosion through landslides caused by typhoons.
Both the Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995. Even before the rice terraces were declared as World Heritage Sites, there had already been numerous reports about the deterioration of the rice terraces in several areas. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
In 2011, a big portion of the Batad Rice Terraces eroded because of typhoons. The local residents did not have the means nor the manpower required to rebuild the terraces. Fortunately, John Chua, a professional photographer who regularly visits the area, chanced upon the damage. Left unrepaired, Chua felt extremely sad for its sorry state, lamenting the next generation of children may no longer see the magnificent work our ancestors toiled for 2,000 years ago. Not wanting the damage to grow bigger, Chua took it upon himself to stop the deterioration and started an advocacy of rebuilding the damaged portion of the terraces.
With the Batad residents having no means nor manpower to rebuild the terraces, Chua asked the help of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines to bring reporters to Batad for them to relay to their readers, specifically those from the low-lands, its sad condition. That way, people might help rebuild the terraces.
Motivated by Chua’s advocacy, MMP’s Vice President for Marketing Services Froy Dytianquin jumped on the opportunity to save the World Heritage Site and made it a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
On February 2012, Mitsubishi’s ad and promo manager, Arlan Reyes together with PR officer Rosemary Cruz, brought 12 motoring reporters to Batad for them to actually take part in the rebuilding of the damaged area. At the same time, MMP brought implements needed to reconstruct the terraces as well as much needed school supplies for the students of the Batad Elementary School.
The rebuilding project was dubbed as “Bachang,” or bayanihan in Tagalog. Chua determined it would take at least 500 people at any given time to work hand-in-hand in the reconstruction by hauling the fallen rocks, and handing them to the next person in line, until it reaches the area to be repaired up the slopes.
The actual Bachang work did not just start in the terraces. It actually started from the jump-off point at the Batad Saddle, where travelers start the 90-minute trek down the slippery trail toward the Batad town proper. It takes another 30 minutes to reach the actual construction site. After the Bachang work, volunteers had to trek back toward the saddle, which takes over two hours, as the trail is mostly uphill.
The articles written by the motoring reporters reached a lot of concerned people with thousands volunteering to help. Most of the volunteers were weekend warriors as hundreds upon hundreds arrived in Batad to join the rebuilding efforts.
And just two years after the Bachang project commenced, the Batad terraces are now completely rebuilt as locals have started replanting the Tumawon rice variety.
It is very heartwarming to see an advocacy come to fruition. For this reason, MMP organized another media ride and drive to Batad to check on the rice terraces’ condition.
There have been considerable improvements since the Bachang started in 2012. For one, the paved road is now nearer the town of Batad and trekkers only need 30 minutes to reach the town. Second, the terraces are back to its normal state and the damage is hardly noticeable.
As a gift to the townsfolk of Batad, MMP brought several TV monitors as well as iPad tablets for use by the students of the Batad Elementary School. School Principal Teresita Halupe graciously received the items in behalf of the students.
Through a town hall meeting, the Batad government and school officials warmly welcomed the Mitsubishi group and later briefed the guests on the status of Batad. Each official extended their deep appreciation for the help provided by Chua and Mitsubishi, with Dytiangquin being officially declared as an adopted son of Batad.
Mayor Jerry Dalipog of Banaue also attended the town hall meeting. Enthused by the successful rebuilding of the Batad Rice Terraces through the efforts of Chua and Mitsubishi, Dalipog informed the media about the deterioration of the rice terraces at the Banaue View Point and humbly asked that a similar Bachang be organized to help rehabilitate the rice terraces in his area.
According to Dalipog, one of the major problems affecting the rice terraces in Banaue is the presence of giant earthworms that drill big holes underground forcing irrigation water to spill out and eventually damage the terraces. Dalipog explained that unlike the terraces in Batad which are made from rocks, the terraces in Banaue are made from mud.
He added that of the 1,600 hectares of rice terraces in his town, 330 hectares have been left idle or abandoned because nobody tends to them anymore. The mayor explained children of the farmers have opted to study and pursue a different form of livelihood.
Dalipog is now calling for another Bachang, for the youth in the low-lands to the adopt rice terraces and rise to the challenge of rice farming.