A House Divided

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. ”
-Abraham Lincoln

From the Bible, Matthew 12:25 (King James Version):

“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”.

I wonder how many tour guides association Sagada has now.  We have SEGA, SAGGAS, SETGO, one in the south and another in north, or is this one in the north (NORSAGA or NORSEGA?) different from this conglomerate of guide associations of northern barangays I have recently seen in a post? An incident in the past has sparked discussions regarding guides associations in Sagada which led to suggestions like having an umbrella organization to unite all these guide groups and have a unified system wherein codes and policies would be centralized while implementing streamlined operations. But it seems that some establishments or individuals would rather want autonomy and manage a group of guides on their own, annexing them to their business. Apparently, the lack of a unified group of tour guide associations poses a possibility of a widening gap between these guide organizations and an opportunity for exploitation by tour operators. In order to earn, tour operators could just basically talk it out with guide groups or a guide their terms that are sometimes neglectful of the rules and could compromise the safety of both tourists and the guide among other things, and in exchange, guaranteeing them of providing clients to them steadily.

Other barangays forming their own tour guide associations and strictly implementing their policy of hiring their own local tour guides show how tourism is finally making its way to the other barangays of Sagada. In the near future, it is inevitable for these villages to completely open up to tourism, as seen in a trend which has started recently, a trend wherein new tourist spots, establishments, businesses, and accommodations emerge in the outskirts of the poblacion as tourists are more interested in getting a taste of the pristine Sagada (the Shangri-la) that they can no longer find in the center. And in the long run,  when the points of interest will shift outside of poblacion, leaving the center high and dry, what will happen now to the tour guides in poblacion or to poblacion itself? Are we going to turn into hyenas, scavenging for what’s left of Sagada, after other animals have gorged on it?

The trend as I see it would be, mass tourism will keep the business going in poblacion for a while, since poblacion is seemingly not so keen in taking hold of the beast that is mass tourism. So mass tourism stays in the sentro, it will keep on catering to hit and run tours or bullet tours and day trippers. And eventually we will be at the beck and call of tour operators or anyone who would offer a boost in tourism, to the point that we will lose the value of things ( the value of our land, our sense of pride, culture, identity, the value of ourselves as people or specifically as indigenous people) to money, because the rooms have to be filled in and tour operators or any opportunistic soul  could very well make use of that need to their own advantage. True or not, I have heard of instances wherein accommodation establishments pit against one another in giving the lowest price to tour operators just so the rooms would be filled in.

Moreover, coupled with unabated development, lack of zoning, and building policies (it may sound repetitive but will not get tired  of calling for the LGU to look into these), by and by, the poblacion will become defaced and ugly that a new generation of tourists will look for something more that Sagada could offer, something that is still unspoiled. How long the poblacion would be able to hold mass tourism longer is the question. Mass tourism is never sustainable and unfailingly destructive, think not only of a spoiled landscape, it is just the tip of the iceberg. If it could deface Sagada physically, think of how it will also erode the and ruin  the social, cultural, and environmental life of Sagada.

One thing’s for sure, these tour operators who have succeeded in taking control of the poblacion and the dynamics of its society, will also eventually take control of the other barangays or find new places to exploit. And not only that, even the locals could find themselves entertaining the idea of expanding their business in the outlying villages, because that is the trend and that is where money is. And the lure of money which could turn into greed can come in. Those who would not be able to start a business of their own might want to just sell their land to whoever will be up for it, be it a local or an outsider. Anyway it could just boil down to whoever bids the highest, or they could be offered with shares as a bait etc. So with this formula and the progression of things, much is at stake for Sagada and its people, lands could be lost and along with it the people, their identity, culture, traditions, sense of pride and ownership among others. Things that money cannot buy. I hope that the other barangays would learn from Poblacion Sagada,  it is vital that they have to come up with a tourism plan first if they really wish to embrace tourism.

And what will then become of poblacion or of the entire Sagada? Please think about it. What will Sagada be like five to ten years from now?  Amidst all these things that are pulling Sagada down, I still believe that Sagada is not yet past its tipping point and that we can do something about it. I just hope we would be more mindful of our actions and  decisions especially when we think of cashing in on the trend of tourism and capitalizing on Sagada as a travel destination. How will it affect the people around us,  nature, and culture etc.? The gist is, if we keep having this “to each his own” mindset, we will just be nothing but a playground for opportunists like these tour operators who milk Sagada to the last drop for their own benefit, for indeed  a house divided against itself cannot stand. And once we reach that very last drop, who would suffer? If not us during our lifetime, please think about your children, our children,  the children of Sagada.

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