Saturday, August 13, 2005


August is the month of the dead they say. And lately I've been thinking of this story that my cousin Joel Tesoro wrote called "Sagada Gothic", a tale about life and death in a small northern town in the Philippines. It's a story he wrote about two years ago when we both spent a month in Sagada in self-imposed creative exile. We both vowed not to leave Sagada till we came up with some form of artistic opus. He wrote the story, I took the pictures. We fled after only three and a half weeks. This is a true story. I would love to turn it into a documentary one day.

SAGADA GOTHIC by Joel Tesoro


“When I walk through a cemetery I always stay away from the fresh graves,” a friend once told me. In a big city graveyard, where the sheer number of the dead grants them a kind of anonymity, such talk seems just a superstition. But in a small, misty mountain town of 12,000 people, seven hours from the nearest major city, her words seemed more like a warning.

Small-town graveyards are uncomfortably intimate. On its crosses and tombstones, the same family names reappear. Small-town graveyards have traces of presences. Pots of day-old flowers make the graves seem cared for, frequently visited. When someone in the community goes into the ground, everyone knows about the death: the whys, the hows and the legacies of it. And if the death was particularly disturbing, small-town graveyards are also where those secrets are buried.

In Sagada’s hilltop cemetery, Donni “Cadiog” Cadiogan’s grave marker did not look like any of the others. His grave was fresh, not more than a few months old. The border between the turned soil and the rest had yet to be overgrown, so a long, rectangular border could still be seen glinting through the grassy loam. And there were a couple of things that seemed off about his simple wooden cross painted with a gay blue sky and flowers. The first was the cryptic, bitter epitaph painted on the back:

“It gives you real respect for the truth when you have to clean up lives that have been based on a lie. Think about it. Donni”

The second was the span between the dates on the front: June 26, 1980 — September 3, 2002. He had died at 22, an age so young his life was barely lived.

To die at that age is to die tragically.

Read the rest here...