Ifugao terraces may be used to grow legal ‘weed,’ says gov
BAGUIO CITY—Abandoned and worn-down rice terraces in Ifugao province could be suited for growing weed to help improve its economy and generate income for its farmers, “provided marijuana is legalized,” Ifugao Gov. Jerry Dalipog said on Friday.
But the communities must be allowed to pick out controlled cannabis cultivation areas that are far from the terraced rice paddies, which are collectively a “World Heritage Site,” Dalipog told the Inquirer on the sidelines of a regional development council meeting here.
He was reacting to a Wednesday hearing conducted by the Senate health and demography subcommittee, led by Sen. Robinhood Padilla, that tackled Senate Bill No. 230 or the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Access Act of the Philippines.
At the hearing, the idea of using the Banaue Rice Terraces as a marijuana plantation was raised by Padilla, who authored the bill.
“Physicians may prescribe cannabis as an alternative medicinal herb for people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous system of the spinal cord, with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity (uncontrolled muscle spasms), epilepsy, HIV-AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis or similar chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorders, [and] diseases requiring admission into hospice care,” Padilla said in the bill.
To date, the police have continued to stage marijuana eradication operations on the boundaries of the Cordillera provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao, Benguet and Mountain Province.
Dalipog acknowledged that weed farms have been detected in the mountains bordering Ifugao and its neighboring towns, “but never in the rice terraces,” where farming communities still grow heirloom rice like Tinawon “purely for their own consumption.”
Only 10 percent of heirloom rice grown in Ifugao has been sold domestically and overseas, but rice terrace owners have since reduced or stopped the commercial sale of Tinawon before and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years, the governor said.
At a separate economic briefing on Friday, Aldrin Federico Bahit Jr., Cordillera chief statistician of the Philippine Statistics Authority, said Ifugao’s growth rate from 2020 to 2021 was at 2.3 percent, far lower than Abra province’s 10 percent or Baguio City’s 9.9 percent.
Scholars have described rice grown in the Ifugao terraces as both a ritual crop and a traditional subsistence economy.
The terraces in the towns of Kiangan, Hungduan, Mayoyao and Banaue were inscribed in 1995 as “an evolved, living cultural landscape,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
But an estimated 60 percent of private terraces across the province are in “poor condition” and have not produced rice, having been abandoned by younger Ifugao generations who pursue other professions, said Dalipog, an engineer.
Consequently, many idle terraces were left at the mercy of extreme rains and storms that blew through Ifugao, he added.
“I visited other countries like China and their rice terraces are in the same condition as ours,” Dalipog said, citing reduced manpower for their terraces’ upkeep because restoring these living artifacts was “too laborious.”
A former mayor of Banaue, Dalipog said repairing his town’s terraces required P190 million from the national coffers.
Dalipog did not say whether growing government-controlled marijuana at the terraces would benefit from its unique rainwater harvesting technology.
According to Unesco, the rice terraces are revered for its mastery of engineering, as exemplified by its “complex of stone or mud walls and the careful carving of the natural contours of hills and mountains to make terraced pond fields, coupled with the development of intricate irrigation systems, harvesting water from the forests of the mountain tops.”
Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao was the first lawmaker to discuss marijuana legalization in 2004, but Dalipog said they have yet to discuss Padilla’s proposal.
Padilla’s measure does not consider harvesting homegrown weed if medical marijuana is approved.
According to the bill, the Department of Health “shall facilitate the initial importation of seeds required for the cultivation and production of medical cannabis, provided that the imported seeds are used solely for the initial cultivation of locally grown cannabis.”
Police Capt. Ruffy Manganip, Kalinga police information officer, said he was against growing marijuana in the terraces.
“Using the Banaue Rice Terraces as a plantation is not possible and I am against that,” he said in a separate interview, asserting indigenous Filipino rights.
While legalized marijuana is being discussed, the police would continue operating against weed which remains a contraband, Manganip said, citing the P17 million worth of marijuana uprooted at a Kalinga plantation that was burned two days ago.
—WITH A REPORT FROM VILLAMOR VISAYA JR.
On the edge: Saving Ifugao rice terraces
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