We hear it every now and then, that this or that location is being considered as a World Heritage site. Is it just wishful thinking, tourism propaganda or are these sites really deemed worth the recognition? Before we enumerate those of our local wonders which actually made it to the World Heritage List, let’s get to know a little more about this list.
Based on the 1972 “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage”, the World Heritage List was set up to identify, preserve and present man-made and natural wonders of our world. Setting up, managing and updating the List is part of the mission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to ensure the protection of the world’s natural and cultural heritage.
Although each nation is responsible for its own cultural and natural treasures, the “Convention recognizes that such heritage constitutes a world heritage for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate.” (Article 6 (1)). Thus, once a creation (man-made or otherwise) is included in the List, access to “international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical” assistance, then becomes available (Article 4).
In any case, the prestige alone of being included in the List creates invaluable publicity and, of course, tourism.
Cultural and Natural Heritage
Although specific guidelines for inclusion in the List are set by the World Heritage Committee (as set forth later below), the basic definitions of the properties that form part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage have been laid down in the Convention.
Under Article 1, the following are considered as cultural heritage:
1) monuments: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
2) groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science; and
3) sites: works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.
Under Article 2, the following are considered as natural heritage:
1) natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
2) geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation; and
3) natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.
“Outstanding Universal Value” and the 10 Criteria for Inclusion
Reading the above definitions of property forming part of cultural and natural heritage, the one constant is that the property must be of outstanding universal value. The Committee, in its current Operational Guidelines, considers a property to be of outstanding universal value if it meets any 1 of the following 10 criteria:
1) represents a masterpiece of human creative genius;
2) exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
3) bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
4) is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
5) is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
6) directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
7) contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
8 ) is an outstanding example representing a major stage of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
9) is an outstanding example representing a significant on-going ecological and biological process in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
10) contains the most important and significant natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Finally, also under the guidelines, a property to be deemed of outstanding universal value “must also meet the conditions of integrity and/or authenticity and must have an adequate protection and management system to ensure its safeguarding”.
So, now you know what exactly can get into the List. Let’s check which of our heritage have made it.
Philippine World Heritage Sites
To date, the Philippines has 5 properties included in the List (3 cultural and 2 natural). They are the ff: (You may click on each item to go to their respective UNESCO web pages.)
1. Baroque Churches of the Philippines (4 churches in Manila, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Iloilo);
2. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Ifugao)
3. Historic Town of Vigan (Ilocos Sur)
4. Tubbataha Reef Marine Park (Palawan)
5. Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Palawan)
We must note that the Rice Terraces are also in another World Heritage List, a much shorter list comprising only 30 properties, but not exactly an elite club since it’s called the List of World Heritage in Danger. These are properties “threatened by serious and specific dangers” and “for the conservation of which major operations are necessary and for which assistance has been requested under this Convention.” (Article 11 (4))
Before being included in the List, before even being nominated for inclusion in the World Heritage List, the property must first be submitted as part of a nation’s Tentative List of Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The Philippines’ Tentative List is as follows, with their corresponding date of submission: (You may also click on each item to go to their respective UNESCO web pages.)
1) Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (16/05/2006)
2) Angono Triglyphs (15/08/1993)
3) Apo Reef Natural Park (16/05/2006)
4) Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension) (16/05/2006)
5) Batanes Protected landscapes and seascapes (15/08/1993)
6) Butuan Archeological Sites (16/05/2006)
7) Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (16/05/2006)
8 ) Coron Island Natural Biotic Area (16/05/2006)
9) El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (16/05/2006)
10) Jesuit Churches of the Philippines (15/08/1993)
11) Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves (16/05/2006)
12) Ligawasan Marsh (16/05/2006)
13) Mt. Apo Natural Park (16/05/2006)
14) Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park (16/05/2006)
15) Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park (16/05/2006)
16) Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape (16/05/2006)
17) Mt. Pulag National Park (16/05/2006)
18 ) Neolithic Shell Midden Sites in Lal-lo and Gattaran Municipalities (16/05/2006)
20) Paleolithic Archaeological Sites in Cagayan Valley (16/05/2006)
21) Panglao Island, Bohol (16/05/2006)
22) Petroglyphs and Petrographs of the Philippines (16/05/2006)
23) San Sebastian Church (16/05/2006)
24) Spanish Colonial Fortifications of the Philippines (16/05/2006)
25) Taal Volcano Protected landscape, Batangas (16/05/2006)
26) The Maranao Settlement of Tugaya (16/05/2006)
27) The Tabon Cave Complex and all of Lipuun (16/05/2006)
28 ) Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (07/01/2008 )
29) Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (16/05/2006)
It may take a long while for any of these properties to jump from the Tentative List to the World Heritage List - the Angono stone carvings and the gorgeous Batanes landscapes have been on the Tentative List since 1993 – but that doesn’t make them any less the treasures and wonders that they are. At the very least, the Tentative List provides a very useful guide on what place to visit next!
 “UNESCO World Heritage Convention.” World Heritage. 27 July 2008. UNESCO. 27 July 2008 http://whc.unesco.org/en/conventiontext/.