Sagada Land Woes… We Do Not Own the Land the Land Owns Us

More than tourists, it is the locals especially the children who enjoy the frolicking at Bokong.

We don’t own the land, the land owns us. The land is my mother, my mother is the land. Land is the starting point to where it all began. It’s like picking up a piece of dirt and saying this is where I started and this is where I’ll go. The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and identity.

Bob Randall

Recently, the community of Sagada was once again rocked by a couple of controversial and divisive issues, which concerns an alleged coffee shop/ cottage currently being built at Bokong Falls and the alleged 100 hectares to be sold to the Ayala group of companies. These are on top of the land woes here including the alleged property of an actor here.

This kind of issue has long been ailing Sagada wherein it raises concerns regarding Sagada’s land-use plan, zoning policies, implementation of the National Building Code, land ownership (this time its current relations to bodies of water), selling and leasing of lands to outsiders, etc.

Unbeknownst to most of us, including myself, there are laws governing the construction of buildings and other forms of structures, such as this National Building Code or RA 6541. One of its provisions is the most talked about “building permit”. 

SECTION 1.02.03: Building permits

 (a) Any person, firm, or corporation, including any department, office, bureau, agency of instrumentality of the government intending to construct, alter, repair, move, convert or demolish any building or structure, or cause the same to be done, shall obtain a building permit from the Building Official for whichever of such work is proposed to be undertaken for the building or structure, before any such work is started.

One argument says that the construction should be continued despite the violation of laws as the owner or builder has already incurred some expenses. 

That is why a building permit is important, as it will save the property owner/developer to incur further expenses. The permit will only be issued once all legal requirements and local regulations are met. Mabalin ay masilip nu ma scrutinize nan structure before proceeding with the construction, it has to be checked if it is safe, there is uniformity in the design, and if it is compliant with the laws or ordinances. We also have to know if it is in a critical site, a protected area, the land classification, etc.

Given that building code is not fully implemented in Sagada and despite the absence of a building permit, we simply have to understand that even if we own a piece of land, we cannot do whatever we want with it, even worse when we act as dummies for moneyed outsiders, posing as owners but had their land sold or leased in secret to people who would like to cash in or benefit from Sagada.

Other than the National Building Code and the building permit, we also have P.D. 1067 that applies to lands where bodies of water are located, just like in this case with the property right beside Bokong Falls. 

One can maintain his or her right to ownership of the land, which comprises the bank or shore, however…

Article 51: The banks of rivers and streams and the shores of the seas and lakes throughout their entire length and within a zone of three (3) meters in urban areas, twenty (20) meters in agricultural areas and forty (40) meters in forest areas, along their margins are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing, and salvage. No person shall be allowed to stay in this zone longer than what is necessary for recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing or salvage or to build structures of any kind.

Keep this in mind in the event that you plan to develop or alter the area near the bank or the shore, it is quite unfortunate that IT WOULD TURN INTO NOTHING BUT A WASTED EXPENSE SHOULD IT LATER BE SUBJECT TO PUBLIC EASEMENTS.

This is what Boracay and Palawan experienced. The business owners could not do anything but just watch their establishments demolished for violating coastal easement.

Or take the case of Baguio…

CBAO’s architect Stephen Capuyan who heads the team on the protection of rivers, waterways and sewer lines said a total of 274 structures had been identified and validated in nine barangays from North Sanitary Camp to Imelda Village traversed by the Sagudin-Balili River.

Their owners had been served their second notices to give them time to voluntarily remove their structures.

Capuyan said that if they refuse to self-demolish, investigation reports will be submitted for the issuance of the notices of demolition en route to the issuance of demolition orders.


Maybe it is high time for Sagada to review the implementation of the National Building Code and the rules on leasing properties kung wada, nu maid, now is the time to create an ordinance on this, mabalin ay itapi nan anti-dummy ordinance gedan. There is this existing state law the anti-dummy law. Better if this can be localised as an ordinance.

Moreover, I am sorry to say this but I find it problematic and it reeks of selfishness, as well as childish when we say that just because the land is ours, we can do whatever we want with it or agtan yu sha is daga nu lote (give him or her land) or agtan yu sha is siping (give him or her money), if you do not want them to build on or sell or lease their land.

It takes two to tango. You got moneyed and opportunistic outsiders and some locals willing to give up their lands to outsiders in a heartbeat.

And so I think part of the problem lies on selling or leasing lands to outsiders not because of immediate need but primarily because it is easy money?

Once and for all, may we craft rules, regulations, and ordinances to cement that and to address other land woes here. Because while it is unwritten despite its wisdom, people undermine it. And for us not to be just reactive every time a similar problem arises. WE HAVE TO BE PROACTIVE.

We have to remember that the rules and values of Sagada have long been egalitarian and considerate of other people, the environment, etc. and not kanya-kanya or to each his own.

Therefore it is of equal importance that in things that we do like constructing buildings, houses, and what-not, we have to consider a lot of things first like its impacts on people, the environment, the community among others and we have to follow rules that are set to regulate things.

So why do we need to regulate?

That is to ensure the sustainability of resources and livelihood and for an essential degree of order to persist even in the midst of explosive growth and to maintain a good quality of life for all and not just for a few.


Correct me if I’m wrong, the absence of a local or municipal building code would allow the National Building Code to automatically take into effect.

I could not find anywhere in the National Building Code a provision stating that a municipal building code is required first for this national code to be implemented.

SECTION 1.01.04: Application

(b) This Code shall apply to chartered cities, poblaciones of municipalities and municipal districts with a population of at least two thousand (2,000) inhabitants, and to barrios of urban areas with a population of at least two thousand (2,000) inhabitants. This Code shall also apply to any area where there are fifty (50) or more families per hectare.

SECTION 1.01.10: Municipal and Provincial Ordinances and Regulations

(a) Local ordinances should conform to the Code and suppletory requirements hereto shall in no case diminish minimum requirements embodied in this Code. The Secretary of Public Works and Communications or, in the proper case, the Secretary of Justice shall take any and all appropriate steps in cases where local ordinances conflict with the Code.

SECTION 1.01.14: Effectivity
(a) This Code shall take effect upon its approval within the Greater Manila Metropolitan Area and in other areas where there are already existing local building codes, and four (4) years thereafter, in all other areas in the Philippines: Provided, however, That this provision shall not prevent any city or municipal council or board from adopting this Code immediately upon its approval.


Yes, but it is a different story when we keep on sharing but bereft of inter-generational thinking how it will impact the next generations of iSagada and if there will still be some of that goodness left for them.

Sagada has an age-old unwritten rule of preventing the locals from selling their lands or having them leased to outsiders or of fending off outsiders to do business in Sagada. And there is wisdom in this, something that the forebears of Sagada must have foreseen ages ago and all they wanted was to keep what duly belongs to the people of Sagada and its future generations.

Think about Boracay, which is now overflowing with foreign investors, displacing indigenous people who are the original inhabitants of the island. Now, these people have to fight tooth and nail to the point of risking their lives just to claim what is rightfully theirs.

I am sorry to say that some of the newly proposed ordinances posted somewhere here are somehow cosmetic solutions to what has long been plaguing Sagada, from mass tourism to unabated development.


While it is good that these areas are going to be declared heritage sites, without the will to impose rules and regulations to protect and enforce their value as heritage sites, its declaration bears no significance at all. And I agree, why turn a sacred a site into a tourism park? What does a sacred site or heritage site mean to us?

Bokong Waterfalls is included in the list that is supposed to be declared as a heritage albeit its significance in the community long before its proposed declaration. But how can it be a heritage site or a protected area when it is bereft of a buffer zone as shown by this business establishment currently being constructed?

This ongoing construction basically defiles the purpose of the declaration. So why propose it while we allow the construction to continue?

Whether a structure is a business or residence, heritage sites and protected areas are ought to be protected by buffer zones among others.


The issue regarding Bokong was not discussed thoroughly. As to how I understood, it was referred to the technical working group of the Sangguniang Bayan in charge of the crafting of the ordinances discussed today.

If I were to suggest, this warrants a separate public hearing then. The community should not be kept in the dark neither should they be mum about this.

Here’s what I have gathered though. The land where this alleged coffee shop currently being built is not sold either leased. It is claimed to be a cottage and not a coffee shop and a partnership between two parties. Though the question of whether one party is a non-local or a foreigner remains unanswered. These are all unconfirmed, so may our local government look into these?

I have a question to ask the Sagada community, what do you want to happen and what do you plan to do now?

I wanted to suggest that while we are at this and still bereft of guidelines and ordinances concerning the protection of natural heritage sites, can the construction of that cottage/coffee house be stopped while the community sort things out?

A suggestion was made before to put a moratorium on the construction of tourism business-related structures in Sagada while Sagada is working on its land-use plan zoning policies, and cultural map, and carrying capacity among others in a talk about Sagada and heritage conservation.

Some time in October Baguio came out with a proposal for a one-year moratorium on building construction.

The same suggestion was also made for the Mission Compound while it lacks a development plan.

I hope that those suggestions won’t fall on deaf ears.

Other than that, please look into the National Building Code, building permit, zoning policies, the Water Code, easements, etc. As far as I know, we have the CLUP (Comprehensive Land Use Plan) but bereft of zoning policies, that are supposed to be an implementing tool of the CLUP. 

Indeed the law should be fair and it should not be selective. 

Localisation of the national laws is highly encouraged. And that there should be a union of the national laws and indigenous laws and customary practices, where things meet halfway and co-exist.

But given those cases wherein despite the questions raised and the resistance from some members of the community, projects pushed through, and structures were built, and questionable businesses continue to operate, it should not dictate us to stop and allow this kind of monstrosity and abomination to take place and allow us to make the same mistake again. 


Photogrammetry and Sagada

Photogrammetry International Field School 2019 students and facilitators with Tina Paterno of ICOMOS Philippines, Prof. Andreas Georgopoulos, CIPA President, Executive Board, CIPA / Laboratory of Photogrammetry, School of Rural & Surveying Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Margarita Skamantzari / Laboratory of Photogrammetry, School of Rural & Surveying Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, and Marlon Cruz of Museo de Intramuros. Photo by Jo Eugenio

Last month, I received an email message informing me that I got accepted as a scholar of the Photogrammetry International Field School, which was organized by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and ran by Comite International de la Photogrametrie  Architecturale / International Committee of Architectural Photogrammetry (CIPA), held at the Museo de Intramuros in Manila.

CIPA, a scientific committee of ICOMOS, advances measurement sciences that are very crucial in heritage documentation. CIPA has been instrumental in conducting international training programs for conservation, advising government institutions, non-government organizations about tools, methods, and technology used in recording, documenting, and managing information of cultural heritage. 

So what is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. The input to photogrammetry is photographs, and the output is typically a map, a drawing, a measurement, or a 3D model of some real-world object or scene.
One of the best outputs in the class by Paulo Cerezo of San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation

How is it applied to Heritage Conservation?

Photogrammetry has a wide range of use in the field of heritage conservation, archaeology, and object and site conservation. It is primarily a tool to measure, document, diagnose, and evaluate objects, structures, and sites. With the use of photogrammetry, we can have a clearer view of those (objects, structures, and sites), and it would also allow us to monitor its deterioration as well as its effects after an intervention such as repair and restoration works among others.

I am forever honored and humbled by this opportunity and eternally grateful to the people and organizations (ICOMOS, CIPA, Tina Paterno of Icomos Philippines, Liz Aldiano, and the local facilitators) who made this possible. Through the generosity of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. and Metrobank Foundation, I and the other fourteen participants were fortunate enough to be given a scholarship that covered the full tuition, accommodation, and travel. http://

The Boys’ Dorm or the Lyceum is one of the least documented structures within the Mission Compound. Tucked away on the outskirts of the complex stands this century-old structure called the Boys’ Dormitory. Despite its current condition, it still speaks of old beauty and tells a rich and colorful history. The American colonial influence can be seen in its pine-shingled walls and galvanized iron roofing

I thought of applying for the scholarship with Sagada in mind, for whatever I would learn could be beneficial concerning the ongoing preservation and conservation projects and those that are still in the pipeline. There are a lot of things that have to be documented since Sagada is still bereft of its cultural map and a lot of structures and objects among others need restoration as soon as possible.

It was a grueling five-day course, to say the least, especially for someone like me who has a completely different background, in a way that I do not possess any iota of knowledge of the software used and the acumen to navigate through it. Even my computer did not survive the ordeal that accompanied photogrammetry. It still crashes at some point in the process. I can only do so much.

Photos by Celia Peñaflor, Jo Eugenio, and Chad Baula

But what I learned overall from a motley of passionate and inspiring individuals coming from various fields from Batanes to Bohol, there were architects, historians, conservators, museum workers, planners, etc. is worth its weight in gold.

Other than learning about the importance of photogrammetry and how it can be utilized to the fullest especially in heritage conservation, I also came to know about heritage conservation from within the Philippines to other countries, its challenges and solutions among others.

Moreover, one of the things that also struck me the most this week is a statement from one of the students in the field school, a community architect from Singapore. He said that a few people pushing for or working for their place’s heritage conservation will find it hard to achieve their goals, as the call for its need should stem from the majority of the whole community from the get-go.

I then thought of Sagada, if you have a community and a place both taking the brunt of massive tourist influx, and it doesn’t have an active Comprehensive Land Use Plan, bereft of carrying capacity, zoning policies, and the implementation of the national building code among others and would rather want more roads paved, concreted, and widened, I think what we have right now are cosmetic or prosthetic solutions. And by not getting deep down into the core of problems, I do not think we have fully understood what conservation and sustainability mean.

Hangng coffins at Echo Valley.

There are coffins waiting to be documented and restored, the dap-ays as well as those built structures in the Mission Compound, objects, artifacts, but not only for the next generations to see in pictures or 3D models but for it to be preserved for them to experience and see these objects and structures first hand. In a gist, it is not primarily for tourists to gawk at but for the community itself and its next generations to connect to, understand, and appreciate their roots, culture, and history. It is indeed a struggle to save what’s left of things both tangible and intangible but it has to be done or there will be nothing left, just memories of a colorful and rich past.

Indeed much work has to be done on the ground, from documenting Sagada’s both tangible and intangible culture to a massive cognitive shift among its people. It takes two tango. Imagine how much can be accomplished if not all, but a majority of the locals or the stakeholders all dance to the same tune.