LAST month, a couple from Manila decided to have their honeymoon in Sagada. Nothing wrong with that as Sagada has become a favorite honeymoon destination for many Filipinos, especially after the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about.
What made the couple famous, however, was when they recreated their wedding in Sagada, posing in the now-famous Kiltepan sunrise spot, the rice terraces on the northern side of the town, and in Lumiang Cave. The cave is an old burial cave and the couple decided to hold their post-nuptial shoot among the wooden coffins.
The photoshoot passed quietly in the Internet until it made it to a Sagada Facebook page. That’s when the issues came out of the cave. The reactions we saw at random in some of the comments include crazy, what were they thinking, desecration, shameful, ignorant, death wish, disrespect and stupid. Some called for the heads of the photographers, the newly-wed couple, tour guides, owner of the inn where they stayed, tourism officer and tourism committee. Almost all were angered by the photoshoot while some took a sardonic view saying that maybe they wanted a corpse wedding theme and the guides turned their hanapbuhay into a hanap-patay.
The biggest victim of all these, of course, is Sagada. Not only the place but the idea of Sagada. Even before “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about, Sagada has been turning into the city it was long compared to: Baguio. It has always been said that Sagada is Baguio fifty years ago, and then the time comparison was pushed to thirty years ago then twenty years ago.
Now Sagada is fast catching up with Baguio. On any long weekend, some of those who go to Baguio proceed to Sagada. The Kiltepan sunrise, once the secret of the town, has become a wide open secret. Three hundred would converge there on sunset, a far cry when only the movie couple had their “hugot” dialogue there.
Now this. After the photographers were condemned for their audacity, the fingers were blamed on the tour guides. The inn where they got the guides was identified. The inn said that the guides, mostly students, knew what they were doing and were not the ones.
The “real” guide was later identified but the old issue of the rival tour guide associations was again brought up. Also their inadequacies on some of the histories of the places in Sagada were discussed. As it turned out, only a few of the guides and residents were able to watch the Tadhana movie so how could they respond to the tourists’ requests for the “Tadhana” tour. There were talks about the tourism officer and how he is also the executive secretary so how can he fully do his specific job since budget is limited? If we call for the heads of all these people, will the problem cease?
A wedding photographer, especially with the scale of what the couple had, is not alone. Or a couple, as their business name implies. At the least there were five including the ones in charge of the klieg lights, because the cave was flooded with lights. So a production as major as that was not noticed by the people near the caves? Was it so hush-hush that no one in Sagada knew until it came out in the Internet?
If Sagada has to learn from Baguio, it has to learn not from its success but from its mistakes. Does it equate tourism success with the number of tourists? Then by all means, stuff the caves with people. Let the tourists do what they want to do. They are always right, you know. Have fast food franchises everywhere. Build parking lots and multi-level parking spaces. Build a shopping mall. Let the tourist pose with the hanging coffins right there in their inns.
But if the Sagada residents value their culture more than the tourists, then this is the right time to do what’s right. It has to acknowledge the limits of hospitality. Taboos of the forefathers had their reasons that are not be thrown away like heathen idols. In fact, it is these “heathen idols” that made Sagada Sagada. If you again look at the post-nuptial photos, look at it semiotically: that it means marrying commercial tourism with the death of the culture.
A sort of a dap-ay should be formed to address the invasion of tourism in Sagada. Get lessons from other tourist areas in other areas of indigenous peoples as guides. It has become easy to come to Sagada with the good roads but it doesn’t mean we have to make it easy for them. Let them learn your culture and know what’s appropriate or not. Let them appreciate Sagada for what it is not what they want it to be. You should not build bungee jumping sites just for them to touch the hanging coffins.
Where do broken hearts go, goes the blurb from the Tadhana movie. Maybe it is in Sagada. But the broken hearts should not be the hearts of the Sagada residents.*