Interruptions: Everyday road maintenance, weather and (im)mobility in the Ifugao province, Philippines

Infrastructure series part II

Kathrine Ann Cagat

On any given day, commuters in the Ifugao province, Philippines are delayed by landslides along the mountainous roads of the province. In a two-hour trip covering roughly 40km, one may encounter landslides happening on two junctures along the stretch of road. In such instances, single motor bicycles may be able to traverse the pile of mud and rocks, making the fare for this mode of transportation triple the price of van and bus fares. Travel via motorcycle while more flexible, comes with its own risks, as usually this involves two to three people (including the driver) riding on a single motor bike along a winding mountainous road. Passengers in vehicles must wait until the landslide is cleared by loaders stationed along the road. The wait may be 15 minutes or an hour. At other times, when roads become impassable, passengers will simply alight, hike over the mountain of dirt or walk along the narrow shoulders of the road, and proceed to their destination on foot, or until the nearest part of the road accessible to vehicles. Such delays are very common, especially during Ifugao’s wet season when Ifugao’s residents say, “Whether rain or storm we go.”[1]


The interruptions in the daily commute of Ifugao’s residents highlight the link between people’s daily engagement with weather conditions and infrastructures. In response to global action on climate change, the state passed Republic Act 9729, which is also known as the Climate Change Act of 2009. As part of the Climate Change Act, the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2011-2028 was drafted by the Climate Change Commission. With regards to infrastructure, one objective is to “rationalize climate change adaptation in infrastructure policy, planning and programming.”[2] For road networks, this involves the proper planning of projects to support sound land-use management so that new and existing infrastructures will be “robust or resilient to the effects of climate change.”[3]


The management of Ifugao’s road networks is done by two district Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) offices, District 1 and District 2. The two primary Ifugao roads managed by DPWH are the Banaue-Hungduan-Benguet Road and the Kiangan-Tinoc-Buguias Road. During the previous administration under then-President Aquino, improvement and expansion of these roads became a priority, as they are considered tourist roads and farm-to-market roads. Roads that fall within Kiangan and Tinoc, Ifugao fall under District 1, while some sections of the Banaue-Hungduan-Benguet Road fall under District 2. Though statistical data was not available to measure the wait time for landslide clearance along the Ifugao roadways, the residents of hamlets along District 2-managed roads bemoan that road clearing is less efficient in these areas. When asked to comment further on the differing treatment of District 1 versus District 2, the general sentiment was that since the Congressman is from Kiangan, support in District 1 areas is more forthcoming. In one instance, during a particularly long wait for a loader to arrive, residents along the roadside village of Hungduan took it upon themselves to clear an uprooted tree on a mound of eroded soil blocking the roads. As residents began to tie a rope around the tree so that it could be pulled by a large jeep, labourers from DPWH arrived with shovels and a truck. Much to the disappointment of the residents, the labourers’ late arrival was made even more ineffective by the fact that they brought inadequate tools for the task. Actually, the residents had already undertaken much of the work needed to clear the tree from the road.


Meanwhile, in Tinoc, a municipality in Ifugao, the link between vegetable gardens and roads has resulted in concerns pertaining to weather conditions. The clearing of some forest areas for vegetable gardening and for timber products causes soil instability that is further exacerbated by the expansion of roads which loosen soil, especially along steeper areas. Likewise, as roads are extended, this further facilitates the transportation of timber and agricultural products which in turn motivates more cultivators to go into commercial gardening or activities that contribute to the destruction of forests that are integral to irrigation management. This is not lost on community members, and DPWH engineers are acutely aware of road projects’ socio-ecological impact. However, amongst DPWH personnel there is a compartmentalisation of accountability, and such environmental issues are seen as the responsibility of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR).


The constant challenge that commuters in Ifugao face requires a more nuanced approach in the way weather and infrastructure are approached by local and international news narratives, so that such issues are not only highlighted in relation to typhoons.[4] There is an inclination to focus on landslides only as they relate to disasters and extreme weather conditions. This disconnect between daily versus disastrous events prevails when landslides become an urgent concern during the typhoon season, even though they routinely occur in the highlands. Meanwhile, discourses about infrastructure amongst conservation agencies and state political actors remain focused on the upgrading, paving and extension of roads in the mountainous Cordillera region and its effect on the conservation and management of both landscapes in the region. This is especially the case in Ifugao, the site of agricultural rice fields (Kiangan and Hungduan) or vegetable gardens (Tinoc) along the mountainsides in lower altitudes and forests along steeper mountainsides in higher altitudes. Specifically, rice fields in the mountain villages of Kiangan and Hungudan are included in The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[5] In particular, road right of way issues remain a source of conflict between residents and the personnel of DPWH, since road projects traverse ancestral lands. Settling the sale of these ancestral lands involves consultation with various family members, which may delay their sale. Likewise, for small landholders, the forests or agricultural fields along the roadside are a necessary source of subsistence. For conservation agencies and organizations such as the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO, Ifugao’s landscape must be protected from development projects. 


Roads play an integral role in the way weather conditions and infrastructure reciprocally exacerbate the disruptions experienced by Ifugao residents, whether this means physical immobility along the road or social immobility as a result of economic interruptions. For instance, if travel along the road is severely delayed, produce to be delivered to regional markets can spoil, reducing the yield that small-scale farmers are able to sell. Even bus and van operators lose possible profits when roads are obstructed, as their ability to ply routes and collect passengers is curtailed. While conservation efforts and climate change strategies are commendable, in Ifugao, they also mask social dilemmas and inequities. Roads are encompassed in the political agenda and reputations of local and state politicians. For this reason, as community members express, work on roads progresses much more efficiently in election years. With regards to the funding of road projects, DPWH maintains that the selection and prioritisation of projects requires a multivariate analysis and multi-level procedure that makes the process more objective. However, some engineers have admitted that this does not eradicate political bias. The bias is not restricted to large-scale projects, but also applies to the efficiency of how roads are maintained, especially the routine clearance of roadways in the advent of landslides.


The ways in which the minutiae of people’s everyday engagement with weather conditions is subsumed into the broader and global issue of climate change does little to address issues stemming from economic interruptions or the politicisation of funding road projects and maintenance. Instead, strategies such as the Philippines’ Climate Change Action Plan end up simplifying social issues into technical problems to be addressed by technical solutions. In the case of the Ifugao Province, livelihoods, land-use and tenure, allocation of resources and political agendas are encompassed in the use, operation and management of Ifugao’s major road networks. Whatever frustrations community members have about the roads are magnified by everyday weather conditions, even if these frustrations are only publically highlighted in relation to weather-related disasters and political campaigns. There is a wide spectrum between daily occurrences and cataclysmic events and there is a risk of forgetting their potent link in the inconveniences that result, and the ways people’s lives are interrupted. 




[1] This is not a local phrase said in Tuwali; instead, residents utter this phrase in English, which is a play on the idiomatic expression “Come rain or shine.” Due to America’s colonization of the Philippines from 1898 until 1946, Tagalog and English are the country’s official languages. Across the Philippines, variations of English idiomatic expressions are often adjusted to fit local dynamics and situations.

[2] Philippines Climate Change Commission. National Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2028.

[3] Philippines Climate Change Commission. National Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2028.

[4] During my initial fieldwork from 2011-2012, and more recently upon my return in 2015, this was the case of local, state-wide and international news coverage on Typhoon Pedring in 2011 and Typhoon Lando in 2015.

[5] The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995 for being “outstanding examples of living cultural landscapes. They illustrate traditional techniques and a remarkable harmony between humankind and the natural environment” (UNESCO 1995). Amongst the inscribed heritage clusters are the following villages in the Ifugao Province: Batad and Bangaan (Banaue), Nagacadan (Kiangan), Central Mayoyao (Mayoyao) and the entire municipality of Hungudan.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1995. World Heritage List: Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras, No. 722, Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. [Online]. Available at:


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