Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
for the 37th General Conference of UNESCO
UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France
Policy Statement of the Republic of the Philippines
Mr. President of the General Conference,
The first session of the UNESCO General Conference was held nearly 67 years ago to this date against the backdrop of a world seeking to reconstruct from the ravages of the last world war. The goal was clear — to prevent the outbreak of another world war.
We continue to be faced by wars, some of them more insidious than the wars of the past.
Today, 1.2 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty; more than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by violent conflict; at least 400,000 deaths are recorded each year due to climate change and disasters; and more than 7 billion people live in a world that is nearing its biophysical limits. It is not for UNESCO to solely address these issues; but with greater focus, stronger partnerships, and collaboration within the UN system, it can make significant impacts in addressing these challenges.
The global landscape has changed drastically in recent years as nations experience the impacts of climate change and disasters – a reality that the UN Secretary General referred to as “the defining challenge of our time.”
Southern Philippines, a region that has never been visited by typhoons in recent memory was hit by super typhoon Bopha in 2012, killing 1,901 people. Bopha is considered the single deadliest disaster in the world in 2012. Recently, the Visayas region in the Philippines also bore the devastating effects of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, which laid claim to precious lives and livelihoods, as well as historic structures such as centuries-old churches included in our World Heritage Tentative List.
In 2012, our country accounted for 10.2% of total global disaster victims. Nothing can be more compelling for us than these facts.
We have already passed a national legislation on climate change and a twin measure on national disaster risk reduction that the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction described as one of the most comprehensive disaster risk laws in the world.
Our national policies have been translated into awareness and capacity building programs to build resilience in our communities. These efforts include the distribution of the Disaster Preparedness and First Aid Handbook and geo-hazard maps to local governments and communities. The way forward for all of us is to aim for resilience. UNESCO, in coordination with the UN system, can contribute to achieving this.
I am also pleased to inform this conference that the Philippine Senate, under my sponsorship, has adopted a policy supporting the establishment of the Southeast Asia Centre for Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Development (SEA CLLSD) as a Category II Centre under the auspices of UNESCO. We are pleased to host this facility that will serve as an educational hub for lifelong learning for sustainable development in Southeast Asia.
We have also had our milestones in the preservation of heritage and culture.
Being a historically plural and multi-ethnic society, we have been documenting and reviving dying traditions of our major ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. Part of these efforts include the establishment of the first permanent textile gallery in the Philippines, which is home to a rich weaving culture, so illustrious, it would be unforgivable to ignore. We have also put up an ancient scripts gallery, which showcases writing traditions and artifacts with ancient manuscript.
I am also pleased to inform the General Conference that we have undertaken a serious effort to preserve and manage the once-threatened Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. The mobilization of local and community stakeholders together with UNESCO’s and other partners’ support, resulted in the removal of the Rice Terraces from the List of World Heritage in Danger last June 2012.
In the policy front, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act has been recognized by the United Nations and World Future Council as a model policy for marine conservation; while the Historic City of Vigan was awarded the Best Practice for World Heritage Site Management in November 2012.
The Philippines is a candidate for a seat in the World Heritage Committee at elections to be held during the World Heritage Convention General Assembly on 19-21 November. We hope to be able to count on your support.
At the core of our experience in heritage conservation and management, peace building, and in promoting sustainable development is engagement with communities, and private-public-people partnerships.
In the same light, the youth needs to be seen as partners in our work of preserving heritage and promoting peace. We support UNESCO’s plans to develop the potential of youth as “change-makers for peace and development.”
The Philippines has just hosted the Southeast Asia Biosphere Reserves Network Meeting in Palawan attended by Biosphere Reserve Site Managers towards fostering cooperation in addressing various scientific, ecosystem, and biosphere management related issues.
Ours is a world that is being propelled by technology. We have seen growth in ways that have created vast opportunities. We must not get lost in the fact, however, that we are also living in a world with finite resources and a changing climate. The world is changing and so must our strategies be more responsive.
I wish everyone a productive conference in the days ahead as we help chart a more responsive and innovative pathway for UNESCO and the community it serves.