SAGADA, Mountain Province: Panag-aapoy is just around the corner and Sagada folk are angry at travel agencies selling the traditional practice of burning sa-eng (resin wood) every eve of November 1 at cemeteries as a ‘festival’ to entice visitors to buy their packaged tours.
Sagada Mayor James Pooten over the weekend said panag-aapoy had never been commercialized by the community.
“It is a traditional practice among the people of Sagada to respect the dead. It is not a festival to be merry,” he added.
Sagada folk consider a festival as joyous where gongs are played and people dance contrary to death-related moments observed with solemnity.
Manila-based Lakbay Pinas Travel and Tours in its online site with corresponding tour offers packaging the traditional panag-aapoy as a “festival” got the ire of netizens.
The advertisement, however, was deleted from the travel company’s site after netizens angrily commented, saying the traditional panag-aapoy is not a festival.
Lakbay Pinas packaged the practice in 2015 as a festival.
It, however, retained its regular promotions offering a low of P2,750 per person for a three-day and two-night tour of Sagada covering accommodation in lodging houses and transportation on dates near November 1.
Manila-based Raisen Travel and Tours offers P2,850 per person for two nights’ accommodation and transportation with Panag-aapoy Festival as a come-on this November 1 for tourists to visit Sagada including its other natural attractions.
The amount covers services for the tour coordinator, travel insurance and taxes and registration fees upon entering Sagada.
The November 1 practice is packaged as a panag-aapoy “tradition” by Manila-based Hideout Travel and Tours, which offers a three-day and two-night accommodation for P2,699 per person.
Panag-aapoy as a “festival” has been promoted since 2010 by bloggers, calling the practice as a “festival of lights” and a “festival of fire.”
The traditional practice has been sold as a “festival” over the Internet by travel and tour agencies since 2012.
Manila-based Happy Juanderer Travel and Tours in 2014 offered P3,050 per person for those wanting to see for themselves a “Panag-aapoy Festiva’l with the amount covering two nights’ accommodation and transportation from Manila to Sagada and Sagada to Manila.
Lighting the sa-eng is also combined with candle-lighting and starts around 4 to 5 p.m. after church service when the priest blesses the names of the departed and the sa-eng to be used in the cemetery.
Steve Rogers, an American who long stayed in town and married a Sagadian, said the community shall be the one to decide whether an activity is a festival.
A community festivity is held during babayas or wedding celebrations and during the agricultural begnas where people after a solemn ritual observe this with festivity to ask Kabunian for good harvest of crops, continued flow of waters, longevity and sickness not to enter the community.
“Promoting panag-aapoy as a tourist attraction without consulting first the local government unit, the Dap-ay, and the Episcopal Church, which hosts the event, is just not acceptable,” Rogers said.
Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) to the Sangguniang Bayan Jaime Dugao said the “panag-aapoy is meant for us, the people of the community to honor” and not for tourists to gawk at.
Sagada is populated by Aplai indigenous peoples who strongly hold on to their customary practices even with the arrival of early American missionaries in 1900s and with backpacker tourism in the 1970s to the invasion of mass tourism in the late 1990s till now.
Affirmed by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), the Sagada people’s collective being as a community is ingrained in their age-old customary ways, including the natural resources around them such that their consent to their intangible practices and tangible property commands their approval.
Social concerns committee of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (CSMV) are discussing rules on the conduct of panag-aapoy at the cemetery.
The cemetery is located within the Mission Compound of the CSMV.
Friend of Sagada Philip del Carmen from Manila said travel agencies have removed panag-aapoy promotions from their online sites.