Saturday, June 01, 2013

An Organic Festival: The 2013 Panaad sa Negros Festival of Negros Occidental

Bailes de Luces Festival of La Castellana

 Organic farming practices and products took center stage at the Panaad sa Negros Festival, Negros Occidental’s grand festivity that promotes the products and destinations of its 19 towns and 13 cities, cumulatively showcasing the best of the province, as well as gathers Negrenses here and abroad and their visitors to its many events and activities.
In this twentieth year of the festival, the organizers, led by the Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr., also emphasized the history of Panaad sa Negros Festival and how it has grown to be one of the major festivals in Western Visayas, if not in the whole of the Philippines, and took time to honor the festival’s founders.
On April 8 at the Panaad Park and Stadium in the province’s capital Bacolod City, there were reportedly about 10,000 visitors during the sweltering opening day in the middle of the Philippine summer, where many grand events happened including the Festival Dance Competition and the opening of the Panaad Tourism, Agri-Trade Fair and Exhibit, two of the most popular attractions.
The Panaad week from April 8 to 14 was actually replete with events and activities. Aside from the grand ones such as the Search for the Lin-ay sang Negros, a beauty pageant, a staple event in any Philippine fiesta and festival; the motorcade and floats parade from the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol to the Panaad Park; and the Festival Dances Competition, there were the Hataw sa Panaad show; the different shows featuring celebrities of the country’s two biggest television networks GMA 7 and ABS-CBN’ 2; the drum and bugle competition among elementary-level students; and the Panaad Drumbeating Showcase and fireworks to keep the people entertained.
Those inclined to sports attended the Great Titan Lifesaving Sports Festival; competitions in chess, boxing and taekwondo; the three- and five-kilometer road race at the Panaad Stadium; the annual derby or Panaad Bulang; the Murcia Panaad Run; the Mambukal Team Relay Race.
            Balancing the physical activities were the spiritual and cultural aspects headlined by the Paindis-indis sang Binalaybay and Rondalla Showcase at the Panaad Stadium, a poetry and plucked-string contest. Here, Luz Leonor from Calatrava was hailed as champion, besting 10 orators with her “Kay Kita, Usa Ra,” extolling her town’s food, destinations and people. John Rey Java of Himamaylan City and his “Organiko nga Pagpanguma Para sa Masulhay Kag Mainuswagon nga Probinsya” took second place while Edmar Villanueva of Silay City and his “Panguma Organiko, Ginapabugal Ko” took the third.
Aside from the poetry contest, the theater group Teatrokon Negros staged Balay Tali-ambong at the Panaad Park Stage, and the Elohymn concert, Latin dance sport contest, RMN’s Panaad Hip Hop Challenge and the Philippine Folk Dances Competition were mounted.
            Opportunities to learn and conduct business were provided at the Slow Food Convivium, the Livestock and Dairy Products Fair, the Farmers’ Day Celebration and Farmers’ Forum, the Organic Agriculture Forum, the PGNO-UPLBAA Annual Panaad Seminar, an “eco-garden” show, a solid waste management advocacy event and the TESDA Livelihood Skills Olympics.
Of special interest were the Convention of the National Federation of Motorcycle Clubs Philippines and the NPC-PAWS dog show.
The overwhelming reception and the range of events inspired Marañon to declare, “The Panaad Festival remains a crowd drawer with lots of visitors who are also with us today.”
“In our twentieth year, we are unstoppable,” he further boasted.
The Panaad sa Negros Festival was conceptualized in 1993 by the provincial government led by then governor Rafael Coscolluela coordinating with representatives from the private sector. Back then, the major festival of the province was the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City, which started in 1980 to uplift the spirits of the people demoralized by the collapse of the province’s economy that was based mainly on sugar. The Panaad sa Negros Festival was to be province-wide and gather the different festivals of towns and cities of Negros Occidental, like the Buglasan Festival of the province of Negros Oriental, the Cebuano-speaking half of the island of Negros, said to be first “festival of festivals” in the country.
The festival’s Hiligaynon name means “ vow (or promise) of Negros,” thus it is a form of thanksgiving to God as well as of renewing/fulfilling a vow or panata. It was also in commemoration of the founding the province on April 30, 1901. The first Panaad sa Negros Festival was a three-day affair at the Provincial Park and Lagoon of the Provincial Capitol in Bacolod City, where it was held for three more years. In 1997, the festival, which had become bigger, was held at the reclaimed area near the Bacolod Real Estate Development Corporation (BREDCO) Port.
            In 1998, the Panaad Stadium complex was built in the barangay of Mansilingan for the Palarong Pambansa with the subsequent construction of the Panaad Park to be a permanent home of the festival. The 25-hectare Panaad Park and Sports Complex now has the pavilions of the municipalities and cities of Negros Occidental. 

The pavilion of Cadiz City

The pavilion of Silay City
The pavilion of Moises Padilla

The pavilion of Talisay City

Organic produce at the pavilion of Victorias City

Fresh seafood for sale at the pavilion of Cauayan

            Coscolluela remembered the pavilions to be very simple then, unattractive, in fact. He was honored during opening ceremony together with former vice governor Romeo Gamboa, former board member Michael Suarez, former congressman Monico Puentevella, Regina Ledesma, Erlinda Jara, Eusebio Po, Andres Valencia, Joaquin Teves, Angelina Echaus, Eduardo Ledesma, Amalia Unson, Wilmar Drilon, Bob Chugani, Roberto Leong, Bro. Rolando Dizon, Msgr. John Liu, Silverio Ureta, Noli Puentevella, Rica Suarez, Msgr. Guillermo Gaston, Girlie Belzunce, Cecile Asico, Donna Porter, Charito Motus and Rene Hinojales, as well as former governors Joseph Marañon and Isidro Zayco. These people had been instrumental in the founding and growth of the Panaad sa Negros Festival.
            Coscolluela related the difficulty involved in the planning and building of the park and sports complex, especially in the procurement of funding. The complex eventually cost P200.5 million, and he was criticized for building a white elephant. The stadium has hosted many sports events, and the pavilions had become more sophisticated and creative over time.
            Coscolluela related when one pavilion was beautified, the others followed. Bacolod City now has a replica of its city hall, while Silay City has an old mansion similar to the ancestral houses that attract tourists. Calatrava’s pavilion looks like a cave while Cauayan’s is a huge bamboo pole. The agricultural town of Moises Padilla has a pavilion that looks like a carabao.
These pavilions showcased their products and destinations, virtually becoming souvenir shops and tourist information centers. Famous for its dried fishes, Cadiz City received the Top Grosser Award among the pavilions for a total gross sales of their products amounting to P881,124. Many pavilions featured restaurants that served seafood dishes. A busy dried fish market sprouted around the Cadiz City pavilion. Also notable was the pavilion of the coastal city of Sagay, which featured aquariums of fishes, corals and stingrays, educating the public about the marine environment.
            Coscolluela hoped that activities in the park last all year round and that the pavilions will become satellite or extension offices of the different municipalities and cities, becoming tourist attractions themselves.
            Meanwhile, at the stadium, people were enthralled by the different festival dances.
The Panaad sa Negros Festival gathers together the different festivals of its cities and municipalities, which sees blossoming in the Festival Dance Competition, where towns and cities send their best street dance groups.
The Panaad Festival did away with parading through the city as it is usually done in other festivals, and instead had this year’s 17 contingents competing immediately at the stage at the Panaad Stadium.
            Emerging as champion is the scintillating Bailes de Luces Festival group from La Castellana, dazzling spectators with lights incorporated into the dancers’ costumes. Spanish for “dance of lights,” the Bailes de Luces Festival is celebrated during the Christmas season, culminating on January 5, which is the foundation day of the town. While light has many meanings, for the people of La Castellana, it “symbolizes the forever burning desire in the heart of every resident to excel in all endeavors towards the glory of their beloved town.”
            The Udyakan Festival street dance group of Kabankalan City came in second. Udyakan is in celebration of the anniversary of when Kabankalan was declared a city on August 2, 1997. With an aim to showcase the cultural traditions of the city, the steps in the street dance are based on the five folk dances of the city.
            Third-place winner, the Balbagan Festival group of Binalbagan, highlighted the stories of the origin of their town’s name. One theory is that Binalbagan comes from the word balbag or “to beat.” It is said that traders pounded tree barks, which was used to cover their harvests of shrimps. The bark was believed to remove the unpleasant odor and to prevent the shrimp from spoiling during shipment. Folklore tells that a giant snake blocked the mouth of the Binalbagan River, an area the people came to call Binalabagan, which eventually became Binalbagan.
The Hugyaw Kansilay group of Silay City got the fourth place. The city’s dance recounted the legend of the kansilay tree, from which the city got its name. Long time ago, there was a princess named Kansilay, the daughter of the chieftain Bubog. Her village was attacked by pirates led by Lunok. The people defended their town, however, Bubog was killed and Kansilay was mortally wounded and eventually died. At her grave, a plant emerged growing into a sturdy tree with purplish pink flowers. Called Kansilay, the tree became abundant in the area and thus the name of the present city. Aside from this story, the dance also told of Silay’s livelihoods. It was also a celebration of life and display of faith.
            On the other hand, Minuluan Festival dance, which was bestowed the fifth-place trophy, told the town’s history when it was called Minuluan. Here, the people of the village, led by Kapitan Sabi, an expert in the local martial art called arnis de mano, successfully repelled the attacks of pirates from Jolo in the seventeenth century using only rattan canes against the kris of the enemy.
            Joining the contingents as guest performer was the group that depicted the MassKara Festival, Bacolod City’s popular festival that highlights the Bacoleños’ “zest for life and unbridled optimism amidst trials and hardships.” The name was coined to mean “face of the people,” and the masks always depict smiles.
At the heart of the Paanad Park were the Organic Village and the Organic na Negros Agri-Fest, exemplifying this year’s festival theme: “Panaad@20: Celebrating Negros as the Philippines’ Leader in Organic Agriculture.”
Negros Occidental has always been known as the Sugar Capital of the Philippines, supplying more than half of the country’s sugar production. It is the commodity that propelled the province to the top. However, as world sugar prices went down, the province’s economy collapsed. Now, Negros Occidental is diversifying its products, and sees fight future in organic farming. Marañon aspires that the province will be the “Organic Food Capital of Asia.”
“We believe we are ahead in the whole country in terms of organic farming. We have the land, the farmers, and the capacity to train the farmers and to expand what we have,” he once said. “We promote organic farming because organic food is healthy, all natural, and without chemicals. Many of our farmers are enthusiastic in producing organic food, especially as it is a vehicle for sustainable rural development and a means of alleviating poverty and increasing food security in the island.”
The province has a considerable history in organic farming. From 1980 to 1990, alternative farming was introduced by non-government organizations. These NGOs, together with small farmers, initiated the Sustainable Agricultural Program in 1990. In 2000, the Sustainable Agricultural Network was organized with 20 NGOs, people’s organizations and government offices. The organic efforts saw culmination in 2005, when the governments of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental signed a memorandum of agreement to transform Negros Island into the “Organic Food Bowl of Asia.” The following year, the First Negros Island Organic Farmer Festival was held at Aguinaldo Street in Bacolod City. In 2007, the Organik sa Negros Weekend Market was launched; a provincial ordinance banning genetically modified organisms (GMO) entry to the province was signed; 10 organic villages were established; and Organik na Negros Organic Producers and Retailers (ONOPRA) was organized with 46 member organizations.
            In 2008, organic sectors were organized and tourists wanting to learn from these organic farms started to trickle in. The following year, the fourth Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival was held, and the Negros Island Certification Services (NICERT), the first organic certification body accredited in the country in compliance with the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, was formed. In 2011, the organic festival highlighted the importance of organic cuisine with 25 chefs showcasing the preparation of organic food. Also, Slow Food Negros was established, spearheaded by the Negros Cultural Foundation, organic farmers, chefs and cooks. In 2012, more than 4,000 hectares of land were being converted for use in organic agriculture with some areas already certified. 

The Organic Village
            The Panaad’s Organic Village was a separate event in itself with its own fair and activities. The market featured an astounding array of products. The province has many organic food brands led by Fresh Start Organics. Additionally, there were cooking demos, talks and seminars, a night that featured live bands and organic beers and wines, and even a beauty pageant called Lin-ay sang Organic, whose winner would be the ambassadress to promote organic farming in the province and beyond.
            Although there have been organic booths in past festivals, the Organic Village was a new feature. For the first time, they organized the organic farmers and suppliers to be gathered in one venue.
            The Panaad sa Negros Festival was indeed a feast for both the soul and body, nourishing one with seafood, organic products, spectacles, stories and the warmth of the Negrenses.

Negros Occdiental governor Alfredo Marnon Jr. during the opening ceremony
Balbagan Festival of Binalbagan

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