MANILA -- With a huge land area of the Banaue Rice Terraces deteriorating, the local government has partnered with the private sector to save the country's northern treasure and prevent it from being removed from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.

The Banaue Rice Terraces was erased from UNESCO's list of World Heritage in Danger in 2012, 11 years after it was listed in 2001.

But with about 600 hectares of the site abandoned, triggering deterioration, advocates believe this will once again put the landmark at risk.

Banaue’s city government and United Harvester, Inc. ventured together to form the Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project.

One component of the project is to generate public awareness and participation to the cause, with one of its latest initiatives closing into its end, the Banaue International Music Composition Competition (BIMCC) set for grand finals on July 25.

Gen. Jaime delos Santos, Banaue restoration project manager, said a lot of work still needs to be done, but the BIMCC is already a start.

"The area has faced a host of challenges in recent years, and we aim to bring back its full glory through the Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project," delos Santos said.

"We recognize that there is much work to be done and what we're doing is just a start. Through the BIMCC, we want to call attention to the scale of the challenge and how the public can show support through a celebration of music and culture," he added.

At the press conference for the BIMCC on Tuesday, Banaue Mayor Jerry Dalipog confirmed that most local farmers have been moving to cities, leaving most of the farmlands unattended.

"Some of the parents sell their lots to send their children to school. This also decreases the number of our farmers," he told reporters.

Dalipog said the LGU allots an amount for rehabilitation from its 20-percent development fund, but the budget is "still not enough."

"We're thankful for such initiatives because it really helps gather assistance," he added, referring to the Banaue project.

The national government also assisted in the rehabilitation through Congress and the Department of Tourism's implementing arm, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

Dalipog said a total of PHP200 million was allocated for the stonewalling of the rice terraces.

"For the PHP60 million, we submitted the detailed engineering to TIEZA so TIEZA will bid it within July. We target to start the project in September," said the mayor. (PNA)