Sagada asks visitors to respect sites
Sagada, PHILIPPINES – A few weeks before the largest annual gathering in Sagada, local officials reiterated their appeal to visitors to respect and maintain the integrity of its tourist attractions for their cultural and aesthetic values.
Sagada tourism officer Robert Pangod issued the call on Monday, January 11, in anticipation of throngs of local and foreign visitors who are expected to troop to the annual the Etag Festival.
Also the municipality’s founding anniversary, the 3-day festival starts on January 30 and highlights smoked meat (etag), which Sagada is known for.
“We ask our visitors to keep not only our tourism sites, but the entire Sagada municipality clean, and may they comply strictly with our rules regarding our cultural heritage,” Pangod said.
The tourism spike is expected to remain throughout the month of February
until early June, according to Pangod.
He said it was during a similar peak season that an ancient burial jar was stolen from its resting place inside the Balangagan Cave, one of the many caves in Sagada.
The white burial jar, thought to be that of a child, was of Chinese porcelain and was still among two other large burial jars when the Balangagan Cave was opened to tourists in November 2014.
However, on May 28 last year, the century-old jars were reported to be disturbed. The small white jar is still missing until now and is presumed to have been stolen, Pangod said.
Since then, all burial sites have been closed to the public, except Lumiang Cave. The cave, however, has not been spared from controversy, after a couple made it their venue for a pre-nuptial pictorial in July 2015.
The photoshoot was criticized online and in the community, and even prompted the local government to conduct a legislative inquiry.
According to village elder Jaime Dugao, disrespecting burial grounds and other cultural sites by displacing or damaging the items is believed to cause harm or ill effects, not only to the doer, but also to the community.
Mayor Eduardo Latawan reported that there are tourists who leave their trash in the tourist sites or along the way to these attractions.
“I’m not referring to all (tourists), but there are some who mistake the pine trees as trash bins,” Mayor Eduardo Latawan said.
Pangod admitted there are not enough government funds to afford guards or watchmen in tourist destinations in Sagada. The tourism office has identified at least 20 tourist attractions.
To avoid unwanted damage to tourist sites, Pangod said they are implementing the “no guide, no tour” policy wherein all tourists need to be accompanied by a municipality-accredited tour guide before being allowed to go on tours.
"It is not only for guiding purposes but to ensure the non-desecration of our sites as well as for the safety of our visitors," Latawan added.
Several barangays (communities) have also taken the initiative to guard attractions located in their areas, the tourism officer added.
According to data from the tourism office, there are over 114,000 tourists who registered last 2015, almost double the 2014 arrivals which numbered 64,000. The peak season of tourist arrivals in Sagada usually spans November to early June, when around 20,000 visit the town monthly.
Aside from its culturally rich communities, Sagada is home to scenic attractions such as the famous Sumaguing Cave, Kiltepan Viewpoint and Bomod-ok Falls.
“May we all respect Sagada by keeping the sites clean that they may come again to enjoy and experience what our town has to offer. Come as guests, leave as friends,” Latawan said. – Rappler.com