‘Fun’ time in Phl
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2013 - 12:00am

While surfing cable TV over the weekend, a feature program about the Philippines caught my attention. The show Destination Truth featured the so-called “hanging coffins” in Sagada. Sagada was featured in the first segment of the one-hour TV feature, and the other half was about the alleged “big foot” monster in Kazakhstan. At least, the feature on the Philippines, although about purported ghosts, was done in a better light.

It was my first time to watch this TV program. But as I gathered, Destination Truth had six seasons already on the SyFy Channel in the US since 2007. The show’s host, Josh Gates, heads a production group from their Los Angeles office who travels across the globe to check and validate extraordinary claims of paranormal or supernatural phenomena or places or sites.

It is like the usual American reality TV shows that rely on “suspense-building mechanisms.” Footages of the show are apparently edited from an entertainment perspective. It has brief segments involving the crewmembers, including Gates himself becoming agitated, getting afraid or startled because they have seen or heard something.

At the end of each segment the show details the team’s findings with a brief monologue in which Gates typically either states that the accounts on which the case was based are largely myths, or that they are supported by the team’s findings.

In the segment about the Philippines, Gates and his crew flew to Manila to look into the reported strange, paranormal activities at the site called Echo Valley in Sagada. In his opening spiel, Gates cited claims by the local Igorot tribe that coffins containing their dead – hanging from the side of a cliff – are haunted. “Strange lights, disembodied voices and even violent hallucinations have been reported in the area of these coffins. Sounds like a job for Destination Truth!” Gates declared.

In his narration, Gates said it took them 16 hours of road travel on a rented SUV just to reach the nearest place to get to Sagada. Obviously, Gates did not consult any local travel agent on how to best get to Sagada. Or at least, they could have checked the website of the Department of Tourism (DOT). Had they done that, they would not have wasted so much time just driving. (Perhaps, they just wanted to have a scenic tour of the route to Sagada.)

After their two-day journey on the road, the team interviewed two locals who told them about their ghostly encounters in Echo Valley. Gates’ team was shown treated by a group of Igorot tribesmen in their native G-string attire, to a traditional welcome song-and-dance ritual. One of the tribesmen was introduced as an elderly leader from whom they asked permission to visit his dead ancestors lying in the “hanging coffins” in the valley.

The next scene showed Gates and his team on board again on the rented SUV driving through a narrow trail up the mountainside. But their vehicle got stuck in the mud due to the previous days’ rain. They had to travel the rest of the way on foot, including a walk through a crude hanging bridge to cross to another mountain. Then, they arrived at a swollen river where Gates and his team were obviously prepared with their inflated boat for a whitewater rafting experience.

They ended in a riverbank and hiked the rest of the way to Echo Valley. It was visibly getting dark when Gates and his team settled in and set up a base camp. They installed their gadgets for video documentary, and camera and sound equipment to detect supernatural or paranormal activities, and things that we usually see being used in making ghost movies.

It was pitch dark as Gates and his crew explored the area using handheld flashlights, aside from those mounted on their hardhats and huge camera lights. Though dark, clearly seen from their footages was a huge cavern with a lot of abandoned coffins. Then came out shrill noise that turned out to be of bats disturbed by their presence.

A female crewmember got nervous when her flashlight suddenly went on and off by itself. As if that wasn’t enough, a cameraman also encountered equipment failure when his video blacked out. And when the camera went back on-line, Gates shrieked when he saw a dark shadow standing at the back of his cameraman.

Undaunted by the scary moments, Gates and a crewmember proceeded to pursue their objective of climbing the cliff to get up close and personal to the “hanging coffins.” While both tied to rappelling rope, they got the scare of their lives anew when they both claimed having heard the creaky sound of a coffin being opened. Gates and his crew decided they had had enough scare for the night.

When they got back to their LA headquarters, Gates and his group examined the strange sounds and video recordings they gathered from the Sagada “hanging coffins” site. But what the group would later discover was having taken a digital photograph of a white shadow with a human form. They believe they got evidence of a spiritual entity roaming the site.

Given all the strange occurrences, Gates concluded that there is definitely something strange at work in Echo Valley where the “hanging coffins” of Sagada are.

That American reality TV show’s feature on Sagada’s “hanging coffins” would have been a good tourism campaign ad for the Philippines, save, of course, the histrionics about ghostly apparitions. And that is no April Fools’ Day joke!

Unfortunately, this year’s April Fools’ Day falls a day after Easter Sunday. The Holy Week just passed is the most sacred period to all Catholics and the most awaited time of the year for weary souls like us in the media because Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the only holidays we observe not working at the office. I spent every Lent at home.

It is only during this time of the year that we are on vacation with the rest of other people on official holidays. That’s why I’ve got time to watch this kind of TV show at home. After watching that feature on Sagada, it was as if I was able to visit that place already.

Hopefully, a lot more other people were able to watch this feature across the world to excite them to see why it’s more fun in the Philippines! And not the kind of “fun time” that American basketball import player Jamelle Cornley looked for here that landed him to spend Lent in jail.


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