38th Session of the World Heritage Committee (Doha, Qatar): The Philippines’ Maiden Year

Following the election of the Philippines to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, a panel of technical experts was convened to attend to World Heritage Committee matters. This panel was composed of Archt. Michael Manalo, Prof. Eric Zerrudo, Chair and Vice-Chair of PH Natcom’s Culture Committee, respectively; Dr. Domingo Madulid, former Member of PH NatCom’s Science and Technology Committee; and Dr. Ana Labrador, Assistant Director of National Museum of the Philippines. Ambassador Cristina Ortega, immediate past Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and Ambassador to France, assisted the panel on diplomacy concerns while PH NatCom staff backstopped the preparatory work.


Technical Preparatory Work for the Committee Session

From April to June 2013, the Panel and NatCom staff devised a process workflow for the review and collaborative deliberations on matters to be taken up during the Committee Session. These generally covered the nomination of natural and cultural heritage sites for the World Heritage List and the examination of state of conservation of inscribed sites. Over this time period, the Panel conducted five rounds of intensive review and deliberation, covering some 41 nomination dossiers and 150 state of conservation reports from 90 States Parties to the World Heritage Convention.

            During these technical preparatory meetings, the Panel also integrated into the discussions the inputs from representations between the Permanent Delegations of concerned states and the Philippines’ as well as information introduced by States Parties via meetings with other Philippine embassies or offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Committee Session Proper

Held from 17 to 27 June 2014 at the Doha National Convention Center in Qatar, the Committee Session was chaired by Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums and Doha Film Institute.

The Session was formally opened by Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, who announced during the ceremony Qatar’s steadfast support to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention through the establishment of a special fund to support the protection of World Heritage Sites affected by conflict or natural disaster. The Fund was made possible through a generous gift of USD 10 Million from the State of Qatar.

The Opening Ceremony also included the presentation of a statement from the participants of the World Heritage Youth Forum which preceded the Committee Session from 5 to 15 June 2014. The Philippines was represented at this Forum by Mr. Billy Malacura and Mr. Benjamin Apostol, graduate students of the University of Santo Tomas Cultural Heritage Studies Program.

The PH NatCom Panel joined Ambassador Maria Theresa Lazaro, Permanent Delegate of the Philippines to UNESCO and Ambassador of the Philippines to France; Ms. Deena Joy Amatong, Deputy Permanent Delegate to UNESCO; and Mr. Jesus Enrique Garcia II, First Secretary, Permanent Delegation to UNESCO.  Also on hand to lend support to the delegation were PH NatCom secretariat staff, the late Jerome Neyra, Deputy Executive Director, and Ms. Maria Victoria Punay, Programme Officer for Culture.


Highlights of the Committee Deliberations

            The Philippines proved to be an active member of the World Heritage Committee, setting aside time to meet with representatives of States Parties, international non-government organizations, and advisory bodies (IUCN and ICOMOS) that had expressed concerns over certain items scheduled for deliberations during the Session.

            Pyu Ancient Cities: The First World Heritage Site in Myanmar

            One such case was the nomination of Myanmar’s Pyu Ancient Cities to the World Heritage List. Initially, the recommendation of ICOMOS was to defer the examination of the site until the State Party has provided more information about the scope and extent of attributes of the three cities and an augmented management plan.

            Following numerous intensive representations and meetings between the Philippines and delegates from Myanmar namely, Deputy Minister Sanda Khin of the Ministry of Culture and Prof. Su Su of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Philippines supported the inscription of the site to the World Heritage List.

On behalf of the Philippine Delegation, Ambassador Lazaro underscored the potential Outstanding Universal Value of the site noting that “Pyu Ancient Cities is a very important nomination in terms of the historical and cultural significance of the three cities as unique urban settlements in Southeast Asia dating back over 2000 years ago.” She also imparted due recognition to the steadfast dedication of Myanmar to protect and conserve the site, “extensively mobilized networks, including various stakeholders, such as local communities, the academe, and civil society groups to ensure inclusive ownership and support to heritage conservation and preservation.”

            On 22 June 2014, the 38th Session of the World Heritage Committee inscribed the Pyu Ancient Cities on the World Heritage List under: criteria (ii) exhibit 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; (iii)  bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; and (iv) an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history; making it the first property in Myanmar to earn such designation.


100th Site inscribed on the World Heritage List: Botswana’s Okavango Delta

Another remarkable decision adopted during the 38th Session was the inscription of the Okavango Delta, located in Botswana, as the 1000th site in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Philippines joined the Committee’s celebration in welcoming the inscription of an immensely unique and highly biologically diverse complex of terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Special emphasis was given on regarding the need to encourage more nominations of natural sites, especially those located in developing countries.


QhapaqÑan (Andean Road System): A Transnational Feat

The 38th Session also saw the success of a transnational nomination by Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, involving the designation of 273 component sites spanning more than 11,000 hectares that best represent the communication, trade and defence road network developed by the Incas. This nomination pushed the conventional interpretation and implementation of the World Heritage Programme by bringing in new standards of scale, research and cooperation for conservation. Commissioner Manalo congratulated the six countries for their “exemplary work on the transnational, local, and community levels.” He added that “[the nomination] connects countries and communities in movement and in the work to conserve the length and breadth of more than 600,000 hectares that comprise [the sites’] core and buffer zones, as well as setting the continuous practice of the region’s rich intangible heritage traditions.”


Ancillary Meetings with the World Heritage Centre, IUCN, and ICOMOS

            During the course of the Committee Session, a Technical Working Group was convened daily to discuss the ongoing issues on administration and budget. States Parties and the Secretariat worked together to find means to accommodate the growing costs of implementing the World Heritage Programme in terms of undertaking evaluation and reactive missions amidst the significant increase in the number of World Heritage nominations and inscriptions over the decades. The Philippine Delegation was represented in these meetings by Mr. Garcia and the late Mr. Neyra.

            The PH NatCom Panel, Permanent Delegation, and NatCom Secretariat also met, on separate occasions, with IUCN and ICOMOS to discuss issues pertaining to the then-forthcoming advisory and reactive monitoring missions on the Batanes Protected Landscapes and Seascapes and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, respectively.[1]


Inscription of Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary

            Following the referral decision adopted by 37th Session of the Committee in Phnom Penh (2013) and after six years of documentation and evaluation, the 38th Session of the Committee finally inscribed the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since June 2013, the Province of Davao Oriental and DENR Region XI, with the technical support of PH NatCom secretariat, have worked towards compiling a comprehensive documentation demonstrating the expanded core zone of the property which was extended to include a critical nesting site of the iconic Philippine Eagle; the broad base of support for conservation from a range of stakeholders, especially the indigenous communities; and management’s capacity to prepare for the potential impact of tourism and climate change on the property.

The continued collaboration and dedication across national and local agencies was recognized by IUCN in the recommendation they read before the Committee, which also cited the exemplary mode by which the Philippines worked closely with IUCN in terms of complying with the recommendations of the 37th Session of the Committee.


[1]The Advisory Mission of ICOMOS and IUCN in Batanes was undertaken on 11-20 December 2014, while the Reactive Monitoring Mission of IUCN in Puerto Princesa was held on 30 November- 6 December.

The Davao Oriental delegation, headed by Governor Corazon Malanyaon and composed of representatives from the nomination team (Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology and Department of Tourism Region XI), was present during the deliberation and had the honor of thanking the 38th Session of the Committee for the inscription.

The Philippine Delegation during the inscription of Mindanao's first World Heritage Site, Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary

Citing its outstanding universal value in biodiversity, UNESCO inscribed the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary to the World Heritage List in 2014.


Closing of the 38th Session and Election of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairpersons and Rapporteur of the 39th  Session

            The Committee and the World Heritage Centre thanked the Chairperson, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani for her effective leadership during the 38th Session and the State of Qatar, for its generous support in the organization of the session.           

            On the other hand, Prof. Maria Böhmer of Germany was elected as Chairperson for the 39th Session, while Senegal, India, Croatia, Jamaica, and Qatar were elected as Vice-Chairpersons, and Ms. Naya Khairallah of Lebanon was elected as Rappoteur. The 39th Session will be held on 28 June to 8 July 2015 in Bonn, Germany.