Two tourist sites in Palawan—the Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park– are now vying in a global search for the New Seven Wonders of Nature organized by Switzerland-based New7Wonders Foundation and supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Tubbataha Reefs is currently entrenched in the top 10 ranking in online voting and the Subterranean River has broken into the top 77 nominees. Both have been declared heritage sites by the UNESCO.
Votes can be cast by online voters who can be residents of a country or tourists who have visited or knew the national sites in the list.
Two other Philippine sites—the Chocolate Hills in Bohol and Mayon Volcano in Albay—have been delisted as nominees but may immediately be placed back online after complying with nomination requirements.
All nominees, the organization foundation explained, will remain provisional nominee until they have been confirmed and confirmation requires the nominee to set up an official supporting committee.
Stephanie McNamara of New7Wonders Foundation said any provisional nominees without official supporting committees cannot participate and are therefore suspended until the situation is rectified.
The second and final round of voting will start in January 2009 and those Philippine sites which will maintain or improve their current positions will qualify for this final phase.
Reported to have been in the forefront of Asian national sites in the top 10 list include the Flaming Cliffs Rock Formation in Mongolia, the Cappadocia Rock Formation in Turkey, the Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and the Mekong River in Asia.
At present there are eight heritage sites in the country and four of these are Century-old baroque churches in Manila, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Iloilo. The two other heritage sites are the town of Vigan and the Ifugao Rice Terraces.
Chocolate Hills in Bohol is being considered for declaration as the country’s ninth heritage site by the UNESCO.
The Tubbataha Reefs was actually the first natural site in the country to be inscribed in the prestigious World Heritage List on December 11, 1993. This national marine park nestles in the heart of Sulu Sea, a wide expanse lying between Palawan and the island of Mindanao.
This unique 33,200-hectare underwater park teems with abundant marine flora and fauna. Its name is derived from two Muslim words—Tubba meaning long and Taha meaning something related to shore, reefs or lagoon. It has two distinct atoll reef systems, the North Reef and the South Reef.
The North Reef is a nesting site for sea birds, like boobies and terns, as thousands of avian migrators fly into Tubbataha to lay their eggs. It is also a nesting site for endangered sea turtles.
A diver’s paradise with gorgonian seafans, soft corals and gigantic sea sponges, it provides home and sanctuary to turkey fish, anemone crabs, banded sea snakes, starfish, cat sharks, surgeon fish, bat fish and butterfly fish. Rare species like the fox-faced rabbit fish can be found in the Reefs.
In 1995, the UNESCO World Heritage List inscribed the Ifugao Rice Terraces because of “its great beauty that expresses conquered and conserved harmony between humankind and the environment.”
There are actually five major rice terraces, including the Banaue (the most famous terraces); Batad (with its spectacular tiered and amphitheater-shaped terraces); Mayoyao (where the organic Ifugao rice, in red and white varieties, is grown); Hapao (which boasts of stone-walled terraces dating back to 650 AD); and Kiangan.
The Vigan Village in Ilocos Sur was inscribed in the Heritage List in November, 1999. The inclusion in the Heritage List was justified as follows: “Vigan represents a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning. It is an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and South-East Asia.”
The name Vigan was derived from Biga, a giant taro plant that grows abundantly along the banks of the Mestizo River, which was central in the development of trade and community activities in Vigan during the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is an underground navigable river that runs 8.2 kilometer-long, snaking its way under a huge mountain some 80 kms. north of Puerto Princesa.
The river boasts of nature sculptures like stately stone pillars, huge stalactites glittering like chandeliers and a cavern that stretches like an almost perfect rectangle with walls and ceilings decorated with many colors.
Four Philippine baroque churches make up the four other heritage sites in the UNESCO List. These are the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miag-ao, Iloilo; the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; the San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte; and the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.
The Miag-ao Church is an Augustinian mission station built as a squat, massive fortress to protect against Muslim invasions. It is made of a distinct local yellow-orange sandstone and its construction took ten years, beginning in 1797. It is described by an architectural expert of the United Nations’ International Committee for Monuments and Sites as “the most outstanding example of the peripheral baroque style blended with embellishments from nail folk motifs found in the Philippines.”
Another Church that doubled as a fortress is the Santa Maria church in Ilocos Sur. A grand stairway comprising of 85 wide steps ascends to the church proper starting from the heart of the town. Another stairway descends to a cemetery with exuberant foliage.
The San Agustin Paoay Church was built from 1694 to 1702 and is the premier example of Philippine Earthquake Baroque, an architectural solution to its natural problems. A coralstone belltower stands separate from the church to spare the sanctuary in case of its collapse.
The San Agustin Church was built from 1586 to 1606 inside the Walled City of Intramuros where the city of Manila began. The church is the oldest extant Christian sanctuary in the Far East and the Philippines’ oldest stone edifice. Throughout the sanctuary, in the convent and rooms converted into museum displays are rare works of art accumulated from Asia and the Philippines over the centuries.
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