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Changing scenes of ‘La Presa’

By: - Correspondent / @gmoulicINQ
/ 12:16 AM October 23, 2016
The Mt. Santo Tomas forest reserve, a popular trekking and biking destination in Benguet province, offers a panoramic view of Baguio City. —RICHARD BALONGLONG
The Mt. Santo Tomas forest reserve, a popular trekking and biking destination in Benguet province, offers a panoramic view of Baguio City.  —RICHARD BALONGLONG

The Mt. Santo Tomas forest reserve, a popular trekking and biking destination in Benguet province, offers a panoramic view of Baguio City. —RICHARD BALONGLONG

TUBA, BENGUET—A tourist’s journey to “Forevermore” ends abruptly at a checkpoint in Barangay Dontogan here, guarded by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) personnel.

Unless one is lucky to hitch a ride with a resident, no excursionist, hiker or cyclist is allowed to enter the Mount Santo Tomas forest reserve, where “Forevermore,” the world-trending “teleserye” (television series) was shot on location two years ago.

No tourist left without a photo with this signboard.  EV ESPIRITU

No tourist left without a photo with this signboard. EV ESPIRITU

Visitor ban

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The DENR imposed the ban few weeks after the soap opera ended on May 22, 2015, to protect the 3,121-hectare watershed straddling Tuba town in Benguet province and Baguio City. Mount Santo Tomas boasts of pine and mossy forests, and hosts a rainwater reservoir that serves the city.

“Forevermore” telecasts have enticed hundreds of fans from across the country, and even abroad, to visit Sitio Pungayan, the soap’s setting. To them, the Pungayan community would always be Sitio La Presa, the fictional farming village where the main characters grew strawberries and vegetables for a living.

La Presa (6)

A group picture with the La Presa house in the background. EV ESPIRITU

Ugly scene

The unprecedented influx of people, however, created an ugly scene: Monstrous traffic along Santo Tomas-Cabuyao national road and piles of garbage dumped in areas where vegetables were grown.

Sto. TomasVillagers, who rely on vegetable gardening for their livelihood, found a ready market. They priced their greens high for visitors who made the trip to their scenic homes. They also sold knitted bonnets and hats, labeling them “La Presa.” The neighborhood collected parking fees.

More than a year after the DENR barred outsiders, the Inquirer visited the once popular sitio recently.

Thick fog blanketed the rugged mountain when the temperature dropped to 12 degrees Celsius. The sign, “Welcome to Sitio La Presa,” a feature of the most uploaded photographs at the height of the teleserye’s popularity, was gone. It was demolished by the DENR and the local government.

The laughter of schoolchildren and the cheerful chat of farmers disrupted the otherwise quiet surrounding, now that the tourists were nowhere.

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The most photographed house, where the love story of Agnes and Xander, the soap’s main characters, developed, is off-limits to visitors. Its owner, who asked not to be named, used to charge P20 for every photo taken there.

Settler families talked more about politics than show business.

La Presa house

On the right wall of the La Presa house hangs a photo gallery of “Forevermore” actors. A tarpaulin posted in another part features the entire cast.

A framed photo of Enrique Gil (Xander) hugging Liza Soberano (Agnes) is displayed below a plaque honoring the owner’s daughter. Below the laminated picture of the owner is a framed photo of Joey Marquez, who played Agnes’ father. At far right is a portrait of Gil.

Framed photographs of the cast of “Forevermore” are all that remain in the house that the soap made famous. GOBLETH MOULIC

Framed photographs of the cast of “Forevermore” are all that remain in the house that the soap made famous. GOBLETH MOULIC

Framed photos

According to the house caretaker, the TV crew handed the photos to the family on their last shooting day, including a huge one of Soberano which was featured in the show and which is still displayed in her character’s room.

Outside, people assembled for a small feast. Women, some still wearing La Presa bonnets, were gathering firewood to roast a pig.

One of them said: “We are back to our normal lives. We may have lost extra income since the ban but we’re back to farming. Life goes on for us here and we hope the road will be opened again for tourists.”

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TAGS: Benguet, La Presa, Mount Santo Tomas Forest Reserve, Phlippine tourism, Tuba
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