Stronger heritage law hailed

On 24 August 2023, a bill was signed into law, amending a landmark heritage law and expanding its scope.

Cultural workers, heritage advocates and artists gladly welcomed the passage of Republic Act 11961, also known as “An Act Strengthening the Conservation and Protection of Philippine Cultural Heritage through Cultural Mapping and an Enhanced Cultural Heritage Education Program, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act 10066, otherwise known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.”

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which participated in the crafting of the law, thanked legislators who supported the enactment — Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo and Senator Maria Lourdes “Nancy” Binay, who are all members of the NCCA Board of Commissioners, as well as Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” Pimentel, Pangasinan Rep. Christopher “Toff” de Venecia, Sorsogon Rep. Marie Bernadette “Dette” G. Escudero and teachers’ group Congresswoman France L. Castro — and agencies and organizations, who helped in the crafting, including the National Museum of the Philippines, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, UNESCO-Philippine National Commission and the Heritage Conservation Society.


New provisions

RA 11961 has new provisions that have not been included in National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, which was principally authored by the late Senator Edgardo J. Angara and was signed on 26 March 2010. The 2009 law primarily identifies and offers protection to heritage and cultural properties.

Heritage advocates and cultural workers welcomed the new provisions.

“One of the features of this new law is that it includes protection for UNESCO designated properties and elements,” said Ivan Henares, secretary
-general of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines and head of the NCCA Subcommission on Cultural Heritage.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) programs that inscribe and recognize sites, properties and elements include the World Heritage Site, Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (as well as the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent and the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices), Memory of the World Register, Global Geoparks and Man and the Biosphere Programme with its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The law also includes Philippine sites designated as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Heritage Parks and Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance.

“It’s good that the law expanded the definition of heritages to include engineering structures… conservation management plan, cultural mapping, heritage trees, historic place names, historic site… It also expanded those cultural properties listed under National Cultural Treasures and Important Cultural Property which is a welcome development to avoid confusion,” said journalist and heritage worker Edgar Allan M. Sembrano.

Cultural mapping

Another important aspect of the amended law is the inclusion of and giving importance to the conduct of cultural mapping.

Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church of Miag-ao, Iloilo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The director of the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics, Eric Babar Zerrudo, who has been helping local governments in putting up their own museums, lamented that many towns, cities and provinces in the Philippines have not yet conducted their own cultural mapping.

“That law will now force the LGU to churn out cultural data. It is hard to put up the narrative because there is no cultural data but that law would really address a lot [of the lack],” he said.

The law defines cultural mapping as “identification, recording and use of cultural resources of communities,” and “a systematic set of activities and methodological processes for discovering, documenting, analyzing, interpreting, presenting and sharing information related to people, communities, societies, places and their material products, practices and narratives.”

Emmanuel Calairo, chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, in Filipino explained “The highlight of the law is cultural mapping. This is important because it mandates all municipalities to conduct cultural mapping to create a credible registry. And the Philippines is quite diverse. National government or national agencies will have a difficult time to monitor all these unless there is a law.”

Indigenous communties are encouraged to do their own cultural mapping. | Photographs by Roel Hoang Manipon for the Daily Tribune

Additionally, in the amended law, indigenous and cultural communities are also encouraged and empowered to conduct cultural mapping endeavors in coordination with NCCA, other related government agencies and cultural organizations.

For years, the NCCA has been implementing its Cultural Mapping Training Program, which offers assistance to organizations, institutions and local governments in training workers for cultural mapping and creating local inventories. It also manages the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property, which was established through the National Heritage Act of 2009. This is a repository of all information pertaining to cultural properties in the Philippines deemed significant to national cultural heritage.

The UNESCO-recognized Subanen ritual called ‘buklog.’ | PHOTOGRAPH by Roel Manipon for the Daily Tribune

In the amended law, the NCCA is mandated to create the Cultural Mapping, Research and Planning Division that will serve as the repository of cultural mapping outputs and other cultural and arts-related research and facilitate technical assistance and capacity-building workshop and coordination with local governments, different sectors and communities. Its Philippine Registry of Cultural Property will be developed into the Philippine Registry of Heritage that will include both cultural properties and natural properties of cultural significance.

“All cultural agencies concerned shall individually maintain an inventory, evaluation and documentation of all cultural properties and natural properties of cultural significance declared according to their category and shall submit the same to the NCCA,” the law reads.

“LGUs shall likewise maintain an inventory of cultural property and natural properties of cultural significance under their jurisdiction and shall furnish the Commission a copy of the same,” it further says.

NCCA will provide technical and financial assistance to local government units for the inventory and updating of locally and nationally declared properties, as well as intangible heritage.

The law also mandates consultation with the NCCA during the planning stages of government projects that may potentially affect the integrity of any Grade I or Grade II level cultural property.


Historic place names

Another subject that RA 11961 tackles is historic place names.

“Finally! The Philippines has clearly acknowledged place names as intangible cultural heritage needing equal protection from constant renaming,” Ian Christopher B. Alfonso, a historian who works at the NHCP, enthused.

He added: “RA 11961 now prohibits renaming of any public spaces that have sanctified by usage 50 years and more. These include geographic names, streets, historic sites and other public spaces. It also mandates the NHCP to ‘direct the LGUs to restore’ the renamed places prior to the passage of this law to ‘their original names after due hearing.’ Place names are markers of history. They carry with them the expressions, experiences, wisdom and story of those who named them. To preserve the names of the places bequeathed to us is to respect our ancestors and those who came before us.”

Calairo added: “Ordinarily, heritage names cannot be changed, especially when they are 100 or 50 years old. They are already heritage. It would be better if they consult our guidelines on that but generally speaking, we avoid self-serving renaming.”


Cultural heritage education

RA 11961 also addresses cultural heritage education, mandating the teaching of Philippine cultural heritage and its integration into the curricula of Department of Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and Commission on Higher Education.

This aims to develop competencies of students on the protection, conservation and preservation of cultural heritage properties; research and documentation of heritage in various platforms; utilization of cultural heritage in interdisciplinary fields toward sustainable development in areas such as tourism, agriculture and creative industry; indigenous knowledge systems skills and practices through models of the NCCA program Schools of Living Traditions with the participation of indigenous peoples and in conjunction with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; and music, sound and audiovisual archiving in coordination with the Film Development Council of the Philippines.

Also included is the development of skills training courses for various forms of traditional medical practices and medicinal formulations in coordination with the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care.

An overall framework for cultural heritage competency at all levels of the education system and the contextualization of education content and materials based on local cultural profiles will also be developed, as well as the formulation of cultural heritage appreciation programs designed to build capacity of government agencies and communities in partnership with the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Civil Service Commission.


Welcome development

The implementing rules and regulations for the law are currently being drafted by the NCCA and other concerned agencies and groups. Heritage advocates and cultural workers hope that this amended law will further heritage protection and awareness.

“It is a welcome development,” Sembrano said. “However, I hope that it will not be as same as the previous heritage law, RA 10066, in terms of heritage protection. After that law was passed, heritage conservation issues in the country continued. That law needed strengthening and I wish this new law indeed strengthened it.”

The law can be read in full at the website of the Official Gazette of the Philippines (