Paradise Lost

“Awake, arise or be for ever fall’n.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

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ICOMOS Philippines in Partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) held a conference on Redefining Cultural Tourism in the Philippines: Our Stories and Best Practices from the Regions
At the conference on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism on Saturday (conducted by ICOMOS Philippines in partnership with NCCA and DOT), while Sagada was busy cashing in on the hit and run tours and being plagued by mass tourism over the weekend, I felt like crying and vomiting at the same time when I have learned and how undeniable it has become, that Sagada is now one of the models of tourism gone bad. Yes, TOURISM GONE BAD. In the past, Sagada was hailed to be the next Boracay of the north as a top tourist destination, indeed, Sagada seems to be living up to it for it is now on the brink of meeting the demise Boracay is suffering from these days.

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Tracey Santiago of ICOMOS Philippines and NCCA together with Mapee Singson gave a talk and presentation entitled, Saving Sagada: Realities and Recommendations

I posted a part of that comment above in one thread and I was asked if solutions were raised. Yes, they were raised and for those who are active online, these have been repeated and raised perpetually especially in Save Sagada. So it leads me to think the most people are aware that Sagada has not yet identified its carrying capacity. The problem is we keep on building and building without asking ourselves if this could even worsen mass tourism. The to-each-his-own mindset is even fueled by the need to fill in those rooms to get back what has been spent , and with such need the tour operators see the opportunity to abuse such need by promising to bring hordes of tourists but at a lower price. But one problem with this is that, tour agencies would rather make the stay of their guests as short as possible as they have other places to go to, making tourism become unsustainable. Anyway, It has always been said in discussions and assemblies, 1. identify the carrying capacity 2. create a tourism and development plan 3. impose the National Building Code and zoning policies 4. respect and preserve heritage and culture (e.g. cultural and heritage mapping and cultural tourism) 5. bring back the people’s sense of pride and ownership of this place.

 

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The speakers during the open forum. Seated left to right: Chen Mencias- Reyes, Tracey Santiago, Kara Garilao, and Mapee Singson.

Success stories have been shared, take the case of Angeles, Pampanga. The people have been all aware that they were only known for sex tourism. But they acknowledged the problem and together with their LGU that also places much value on heritage and culture, started to work together to change that. They went back to their roots, culture, and heritage. And within three years since the new tourism officer took charge, they have been garnering awards and now they are even vying to be a part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities in the field of gastronomy.

My hopes for Sagada will always be high, I do not think we are already past the tipping point. Or maybe I am still in denial, as much as those who are in denial believing that nothing is wrong with Sagada. I believe that people could see the changes and not only see but also experience the impacts once perceived in the past but are now unfolding and too glaring to disregard. It is time to accept the challenge of rebuilding and revitalizing Sagada, not to bring back exactly the past but for it to co-exist with growth harmoniously as its nature, culture, values, and heritage continue to flourish.

It is just frustrating and heartbreaking to know how Sagada is now widely talked about NOT ONLY AS A BEAUTIFUL DESTINATION BUT A PARADISE DECAYING because it couldn’t take hold of the beast that is tourism. And why it hurts so much is because Sagada is primarily a community, a home to its people with rich culture and heritage, and not just a tourist destination, not just a place for business, and mass tourism is killing the place, the home of the people of Sagada, its heart and soul, and the goose that lays the golden eggs.

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2 thoughts on “Paradise Lost

  1. We really love your posts. We wish to help you in this advocacy. My husband’s roots hails from Sagada. We hope to someday meet you when we visit the place again. A conversation with you is something we both look forward to. We feel your pain in trying to save this sanctuary. In our recent visits, we avoided the peak season. For the same reason, our hearts could not bear the sight of people crowding the whole town, with the intention of just merely taking pictures to brag around. But not really understanding and respecting the culture and the sanctity of the place. Really heart breaking.

    1. Thank you very much for reading the posts here. Great to hear that your husband traces his roots here in Sagada. Anyway, I have been thinking that turning a blind eye would ease the pain but it is becoming unbearable as time goes by. And there are a lot of things to be done. Please come and visit us again. Yes, would love to meet you and your husband too. You can reach me through this email preservesagadanow@gmail.com . Thank you!

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