Thursday, December 01, 2016

Making Mimaropa's Moment: Puerto Princesa Hosts Second Region-wide Festival

The Arawatan Festival contingent of Occidental Mindoro was declared champion in the street-dance competition
The Arawatan Festival group from Occidental Mindoro took to the streets, joining the throngs of expectant people. Dressed as Hanunuo Mangyans, which are indigenous to the province, they were less spectacularly costumed than the other groups, but their steps and movements were energetic. Their festival’s name is Mangyan for “cooperation” or “helping each other out,” and the festival, held in the middle of November, celebrates such practice. Thus, this time, the group demonstrated such spirit but on a larger scale, through a rousing dance drama that told the story of a group of Mangyans and Tagalogs of the province traveling through the different provinces of the Mimaropa region and meeting their peoples, ending with an emphasis on unity. The Occidental Mindoro group clinched the first prize in the street dance component of the Mimaropa Festival, held from November 7 to 11, 2016, in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, for effectively exemplifying an ideal of the region.
The Philippines’ only region-wide festival, which is now on its second staging, serves as a venue for “unifying the different provinces of the region,” reiterated newly-installed Department of Tourism (DoT) regional director for Mimaropa Danilo B. Intong.
The region is divided by waters, being made up of islands at the northwest part of the Philippines, southwest of its largest island Luzon. This cluster is made up of the provinces of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan, thus the portmanteau name Mimaropa, Each has its own unique culture that crafting a singular identity can be elusive, something the first celebration of the Mimaropa Festival attempted.
The idea for the festival was hatched during a meeting of the Regional Development Council, and the first Mimaropa Festival was hosted by Oriental Mindoro from November 9 to 14, 2015, almost coinciding with the 65th foundation anniversary of the province. It was agreed that holding of the festival would be rotated among the five provinces. This year, Puerto Princesa City agreed to host the event.
Oriental Mindoro governor Alfonso V. Umali, Jr. admitted that the festival is still “undergoing birth pangs and there are still gaps to be addressed.” But he said the first Mimaropa Festival “was successful. That’s why Puerto Princesa was enticed to host.”
On the other hand, Puerto Princesa mayor Lucilo R. Bayron said the Mimaropa Festival is a welcome addition to the different events that the capital of Palawan is holding in November, which are their way of attracting more tourists. They are targeting a million tourist arrivals a year.
Puerto Princesa or Palawan as a whole is Mimaropa’s leading tourist destination with two world-renowned attractions—the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) and the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, both United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage sites. Moreover, according to Bayron, the city has a host of natural and man-made sites for tourists to enjoy, plus different events spread out through the year.
Two events of Puerto Princesa were linked to the festival—the Puerto Princesa Underground River Day and the Asian Dragon Boat Championships/Puerto Princesa International Club Crew Championships.
In celebration of the river’s inclusion in the New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 11, 2011, the PPUR Day was held from November 10 to 11 with a series activities that included a dance competition, a quiz show and environmental endeavor, among others, many of which were held at the Sabang Wharf.
“This is the third year that we are celebrating it,” explained Elizabeth Maclang, Protected Area and World Heritage Site manager. “This year’s celebration is focused on making an impact, celebrating the PPUR’s outstanding universal value, not just to the communities within the park, but in the entirety of the city and hopefully, nationally and internationally.”
On the other hand, the Asian Dragonboat Competition was held from November 11 to 13 at the City Baywalk and Puerto Princesa Bay with teams from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia competing in 10 events 200-meter and 500-meter distances.
While the Mimaropa Festival was geared towards enhancing the city’s tourism, it was also meant to showcase the best of the region. The festival was highlighted by a street-dancing competition, an agriculture-tourism-trade fair, and the crowning of Festival King and Queen.
The trade fair, mounted from November 7 to 11 at the City Park, featured booths of the different Mimaropa provinces with food items, tourism offerings and products of their native cultures, among others.
The street dancing competition on November 9 proved to be the most popular event where contingents paraded along Rizal Avenue. Each province sent their best festival groups to enthrall audiences.
Marinduque’s bright and colorful Bila-Bila Festival group of its capital Boac depicted the life cycle of butterfly, which has become a recent touristic venture. The Bila-Bila Festival is held during Boac’s fiesta on December 8, focusing on the butterfly and its breeding industry.
Oriental Mindoro fielded the mesmerizing Pandangitab Festival group of Baco. It showed the practice of sending off fishermen by the shore at the break of dawn by wives carrying lamps and lights, giving birth to a folk dance using little flickering lights. In lush terno and barong Tagalog, the dance was graceful yet dramatic.
Oriental Mindoro’s Calapan City showcased its Kalap Festival, which tells the folk history of the city, from being a small community of Tagalog and Mangyan to the invasions of Moro pirates and the coming of Christianity. It also explains the origin of the city’s name—from kalap, meaning “to gather (wood)” or “to forage.” The energetic and engaging entry was adjudged second place.   
Romblon’s Kanidugan Festival of Odiongan, celebrated every April to commemorate the founding of Odiongan and to honor its patron Saint Vincent Ferrer, derives its name from the nidog or coconut. The group showed how the people gather coconuts and make use of different parts of the tree.
Palawan’s Baragatan Festival of Quezon placed third with a dance that highlighted Palawan icons, especially the Manunggul Jar and the reefs of Tubbataha using eye-catching props. Similarly, Puerto Princesa’s Balayong Festival group made use of spectacular props to depict the life cycle of the balayong or cherry including the blossoming of gigantic flowers and their pollination by gigantic butterflies and bees.
The search for Mimaropa Festival King and Queen on November 10 at the City Coliseum was also a fun watch as young men and women bested each other with beauty and smarts. Production numbers were iterations of their street-dance performances.
The festival is but a glimpse of the different wonders of the region. Mimaropa officials promised to continue holding the Mimaropa Festival to drum up the region’s potentials and make it one of the Philippines’ popular events. Next year, the province of Romblon is set to host.

For more information, contact Cecil Aranton of the DoT Mimaropa Regional Office through email and telephone number (02) 890-1014.

Mimaropa Festival prime movers: Romblon governor Eduardo Firmalo, Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali Jr., Department of Tourism regional director for Mimaropa Danilo Intong, Occidental Mindoro Gov. Mario Gene Mendiola and Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron

The Bila-Bila Festival group of Boac, Marinduque

The Pandangitab Festival of Oriental Mindoro

Marinduque’s contestants at the Mimaropa Festival King and Queen contest

Oriental Mindoro contestants at the Mimaropa Festival King and Queen contest dancing the Pandangitab Festival number

The Asian Dragonboat Competition at Puerto Princesa Bay

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Playing in the Light and Shadows: Vigan City Celebrates the Raniag Festival

The week before All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Vigan City, the capital of Ilocos Sur, was bustling with tourists. They came in droves during what used to be a low season for the heritage city, famous for having the largest concentration of old houses in the Philippines and as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site. When the dark fell, the city center became more festive, the locals joining the tourists for the events and activities of the Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival, an expanded celebration of the Undas and Halloween, a Western holiday that has become increasingly popular in the country.
“Our peak season used to be summer. Recently, there seems to be no low season,” said Eva Marie Medina, who had been Vigan City’s mayor for many years.
She credited this partly to the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEx), an 88.85-kilometer, four-lane expressway in Central Luzon, which opened a few years ago and lessened travel time, to Vigan, 408 kilometers from Manila, on the eastern seaboard of northern Luzon.
Also, aside from the lovely charm of Vigan’s heritage and Ilocano culture, the tourists are drawn here by different events.
“We have six special events in a year. It’s our strategy to bring in more tourists,” Medina revealed.
The festivities start with the Longganisa Festival in the middle of January, which leads to the feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, the city’s patron saint, on January 25. The Holy Week during the summer also draws lots of crowds and is full of religious traditions. The Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts is held in the first week of May, with the celebration of the feast day of the Black Nazarene of Vigan’s Simbaan a Bassit, popularly called Apo Santo Cristo or Apo Lakay. The UNESCO World Heritage Cities Solidarity Cultural Festival in turn is held in early September. The Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival, the youngest of these festivals which is now on its sixth year, caps off the year. 
“We are thinking of a food festival to be held in December,” revealed Medina, who also said that they want to highlight how delicious Ilocano food is and how rich the culinary traditions are.
This year, the Raniag Festival is held from October 21 to 31, 2016, incorporating old customs and traditions of Undas as well as introducing new events.
“When I was young, when I was studying in Manila, I always looked forward to October, kasi makikita mo mga relatives mo, mga kaibigan mo. It’s a time for getting together and merry making while remembering our dearly departed,” Medina related. “I thought why not create a festival so that homecomings will be more festive at may relevance talaga. Thus, Raniag Festival was developed. First, it was a two- to three-day affair. Now, it is a weeklong festivity.”
Raniag means “light” in Ilocano and for Medina lights are always connected with All Soul’s Day or Undas. “We always light candles for our dearly departed,” she said.
Thus, all activities are held during twilights and nights to emphasize the use and beauty of lights.
“Many of the festival’s features have connections to religious activities and local customs and traditions,” Medina added. “I remember when we were little children, we got together and played at the plaza. We ate arroz caldo. That’s why we have the Arrozcalduhan sa Plaza Burgos as well as games and entertainment.” 
The festival was highlighted by the Raniag Electric Float Parade, in which little floats, with colorful lights and depicting fictional and urban legend characters related to Halloween, paraded around the city center. Also a main event was street dancing competition with several groups of usually students danced with lights and Halloween themes.
In between, there was Flight of Sky Lanterns at the modern Jardin de Caridad Memorial Park. The event was inspired by the Yi Peng Festival of Thailand, famous for its use of sky lanterns, which is Chinese in origin. The lanterns were adopted for the local custom.
“It has been a tradition for people to visit the graves of their loved ones,” Medina said. “With the sky lanterns, mas madaling umabot sa langit ang prayers and wishes mo as well as messages to our dearly departed.”
“It is a time for remembering and for reunions as well as a way of thanking the Lord for giving us the gift of life,” she added.
Another major component of the festival was the World Costume Festival. Organized with the Organization of International Scenographers, Theater Architects and Technicians, the first World Costume Festival was held in May 2013 in Vigan with entries from Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Bangladesh, Georgia and the Philippines.
“When we first hosted the World Costume Festival, it was included in the Viva Vigan! Festival of the Arts, but we thought that it is more appropriate for the Raniag Festival. Additionally, it is a more comfortable time for foreigners since May is very hot,” Medina said.
The second holding of this showcase of imaginative fashion draw participants from different countries including Indonesia, Japan and the United States. These were paraded on the streets together with the costumes of co-sponsor GMA Network’s fantasy television series Encantadia (2005), Indio (2013) and Kambal Sirena (2014). The entry titled “Prabha” of the Faculty of Engineering of Yogyakarta State University in Indonesia was adjudged champion.
Other Raniag events were the Candle Floater Ceremonies and Acoustic Competition at the Celedonia Garden in the barangay of Beddeng Laud; the opening of a horror house at the Leona Florentino House; a trick-or-treat activity around the city; a Halloween party at the Legacy Superclub on Calle Crisologo; a Pokemon Lure Party at the city hall; and the Black Light Color Run.

While Raniag: Vigan Twilight Festival seemed inclined to be more festive, this year’s celebration acquired an added meaning after typhoon Haima, locally known as Lawin, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2016, battered northern Luzon, including Ilocos Sur, on October 19. According to acting mayor Kisses Agdamag-Lim, the lights of Raniag Festival came to symbolize hope and rising from the disaster.