IN TIME when all the watersheds are gone, the rice terraces and the vegetable farmlands in the cordilleras will beg for water to sustain themselves. They will look thirsty, dehydrated and monotonously boring. Interesting no more, those terraced mountains may yet perhaps draw a handful of tourists and archeologists.
Dubbed as an engineering feat of unschooled engineers, the rice terraces may stay as tourism destination spots as a registry on how generations of this century have squandered the legacy of their ancestry.
The central Cordillera mountain ranges are magnificently curvaceous, cloud-kissed and blessedly staring imperiously towards the heavens. They are covered with lust vegetation and virgin forests. They are the watersheds that have sustained life to indigenous tribes thereat.
These forests conserve water from rainfalls and release its water tanks to feed and nourish the streams and rivers that flow through lower mountain bends to the east feeding the vast rice fields of the Cagayan Valley; and supporting life uplifting socio-economic development in the Ilocos region to the west.
There are four towering mountains declared prominently as forest reservations and watersheds in the region. These are Mount Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines, and located at the borders of Benguet and Ifugao; Mount Data which is located between Benguet and Mt. Province; Mount Polis located between Ifugao and Mt. Province; and Mount Sto.Tomas in Benguet.
These watersheds have been the targets of incursions by vegetable farmer-businessmen. Thousands of hectares have been denuded and transformed into farmlands.
Mount Data, located in the borders of Bauko, Mt. Province and Mankayan, Benguet, was the first victim as early as the 1960s. Those years were described as "the Rapes of Mount Data" where century old pine trees were cut down for lumber purposes and farming. With no punitive action against the intruders, wide tracts of forest along Mountain Trail or Halsema Highway were also cleared for veggie farming.
The slopes of Mount Pulag on the northern side came next with the opening of a road leading to Mansususuy and isolated Tinoc town in Ifugao. The south-eastern section is not spared in Kabayan, Benguet. Those sections covered with mossy oak-tree forests are green no more.
Mount Sto. Tomas that houses huge water reservoirs for Baguio City is losing her role as a watershed. Her majestic forest beauty is conquered too by vegetable farming and housing.
Nature's use is firstly beneficial for life, I subscribe. In Benguet, the instinct for survival has enhanced the living conditions of residents. It has boosted the economy of the province holding on to her status as a first class local government unit. A recent survey reveals that it is the best and safest place to live in the country.
The Mount Polis forest reserve may come next if no effort is taken to intervene protecting her from the lust for commerce and money. It is the watershed that provides irrigation for the world famous rice terraces of Ifugao in Banaue and Batad.
Its irrigation systems is a surfeit ambition that have stamped a remarkable record of success to be considered as one of the "Eight wonders of the world."
Let us focus on the Ifugao Rice Terraces in Banaue proper, Batad (also Banaue), and Nagacadan, which are all listed as a World Heritage site under the United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization (Unesco).
These rice terraces were declared as national treasures by Philippine laws in Presidential Decrees 260 and 1505 of 1973 and 1978, respectively; and Republic Act 10066 of 2010.
But government officials' ignorance on how to implements series of master plans that comprehensively covers management, conservation and socio-economic issues placed the Ifugao Rice Terraces in danger. In 2001, it was recorded in the danger list as a world heritage site.
Seemingly, government concerns center on conservation of water forgetting its meaning. Conservation is the protection of watersheds from whatever social and economic development.
The ever growing population of overcrowded communities like Metro Manila and Baguio cites are examples of thirsty urban centers caused by failures and inaction in this field.
Perhaps, modern engineering science have a way of manipulating water, on capturing and storing it behind dams and rerouting it along concrete tunnels and rivers over distances. But the bottom line remains on "conservation."
Enter the threats of climate change. It may not be visible yet in the cordillera mountain ranges. Unknown is that millions of lives are affected in other parts of the world. Several African and south American countries are having less and less rainfall resulting to poor farm harvest and source of living.
The scarcity of food and anxiety of famine and job losses has affected hundreds of thousands. Sadly those affected families in south American countries are part of the immigrant convoys of some 850,000 marching to the fenced borders of the United States. Statistics disclose millions are affected by famine threats as their lands are drying up with less and less harvest from their farms.
I am not a doomsayer. I do conform to environmentalist and author Marc Reiner who wrote: "water is the central fact of existence, truthfully communities, culture and values were woven around it."