Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sangyaw Festival 2015: Tacloban City Celebrates and Lights its Way to Recovery

A Parade of Lights float 
At the city center, Tacloban City throbbed with life. People were walking around even late at night. New restaurants and cafes scintillated at the dark corners, some interesting enough to catch attention. Small carinderias billowed with smoke from their grills. Young people gathered around new bars. New hotels had also opened, while the Santo Niño Church had been refurbished.
It has been almost two years since super typhoon Haiyan, locally called Yolanda, ravaged many parts of the Visayas in early November 2013, particularly the capital of the province of Leyte and the hub of Eastern Visayas.
International and local aid response was immediate and overwhelming, ameliorating the effects of widespread devastation, which included deaths pegged at around 6,000. Continued aid enabled communities to recover, particularly Tacloban City.
“When you go around the city, [you will see that] business has bounced back, especially in the downtown area. The people are moving on, so to speak. Malls have opened, have become better. Hotels are open. It’s booming, in a way. Lalong dumami—more restaurants, more hotels, more stores. New contractors are coming in, building the houses. Volunteer tourism brings people, also boosts the economy. They spend money here, rent houses here. The housings, may ginagawa pa. We will get there eventually. Every couple of weeks, may tinu-turnover na bahay. Unti-unti [we will get there],” revealed Tacloban City councilor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez, actress-wife of Tacloban City mayor Alfred Romualdez.
Additionally, she estimated the recovery to be at 80 percent. And one very apparent proof of that recovery is the recently held Sangyaw Festival.
“Everyone is really excited. The symbol of having a big fiesta is not because we want to celebrate big and all that. For me, it’s really… ang tawag namin paglaum, hope. It brings hope to the people that yes, we’re back on our feet. Yes, this will help our tourism, help our economy,” she explained. “Holistic ang approach ‘to. ‘Di lang ‘yung psyche ng tao. ‘Di lang ‘yung psychologically it will help them feel na, yes, we’re back on our feet. Forget the past, let’s move forward. ‘Yung economy natin. Any cultural event boosts our economy. They encourage the tourists to come in, focus attention to our city, we hope. [When] we boost the economy, it helps the people. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. ‘Yung mga tao tuwang-tuwa. Nakalimutan nila ‘yung nagyari.”
Sangyaw Festival is the transformation of a more traditional and religious fiesta in honor of Santo Niño de Tacloban, the city’s patron saint. It was created by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos in 1976, taking on an old term in the Eastern Visayan language of Waray-Waray, sangyaw, which means “to announce” or “to herald” a news. The festival though was discontinued in 1986 and was revived in 2008 by Marcos’s nephew, Alfred Romualdez.
As Sangyaw Festival, it has become a motley event incorporating cultural and social activities, entertainment and fairs as well as traditional and religious events, lasting from a few weeks to almost a month, but always culminating on the day of the fiesta on June 30. Tacloban’s feast day for the Santo Niño, or the Infant Jesus, is different from the rest of the country, which celebrates it on the third Sunday of January. Tacloban’s feast day commemorates the return of the Santo Niño de Tacloban icon on June 27 after miraculously surviving a shipwreck during a voyage in 1889. Another story tells about the transfers of the image between the barangay of Buscada of Basey in Samar and the sitio of Cancabato, now Tacloban City. It is said that Cancabato would borrow Buscada’s Santo Niño icon, which was bigger, for its fiesta. As Cancabato community grew bigger, there were talks of retaining the image. When the Santo Niño went missing in Buscada and later found in Cancabato, it helped decide where it should be placed. Every June 27, the transfer of the Santo Niño image is reenacted, called Balyuan rite, on San Pedro Bay with a procession on the sea from Basey to Tacloban City.
The Sangyaw Festival coincides with the festival of the province of Leyte, the Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival of Festivals, also in honor of the Santo Niño. The Pintados Festival was first celebrated on June 29, 1987. Then Leyte governor Remedios Petilla introduced another festival in 1996, the Leyte Kasadyaan Festival of Festivals. The Pintados and Kasadyaan festivals were later merged together. In recent years, rivalry developed between the Sangyaw and the Pintados-Kasadyaan, being associated with two of Leyte’s biggest rival political clans.
But according to Romualdez, the rivalry is just perception. “I want to look at it in a good light. We’re thankful that we have two festivals and two parades. The bigger, the better. Talagang boost sa economy. Wala naman talagang away.”
Indeed, during June, Tacloban City is riddled with many activities and events with the two festivals. Sangyaw Festival is developing to be a bigger event through the years except in 2014, after Haiyan struck.
“‘Yung fiesta last year, it was really, really low-key. We were still in the mourning stage. If you live in Tacloban, it’s still fresh in our minds, but of course, we want to leave that behind and move forward. There’s really nothing we can do. Babangon na lang tayo and move forward. It happened, and we learn to be resilient,” she recounted.
Resiliency was the theme of this year’s Sangyaw Festival, celebrating how Taclobans survived the tragedy and how they are recovering.
“We want to be more resilient. We bounce back,” Romualdez, who chairs the city’s Committee on Finance and Tourism, added.
Said to be a grand comeback of sorts, the Sangyaw Festival, with almost a month of celebration, was bigger and had more events and parties. There were concerts featuring Jaya on June 27; Pokwang, Chokoleit and Michael Pangilinan on June 28; and Rocksteddy on June 28.
Another Sangyaw highlight was a beauty pageant, which is de-rigueur in any Philippine festivities. About 5,000 attendees were said to be at the Tacloban Metropolitan Arena or Astrodome for the Miss Tacloban pageant. About 30 people died in the Astrodome, where many people also sought refuge, from Haiyan storm surges. But last June 27, the venue was filled with cheers as 18-year old student of the Asian Development Foundation College, Reena Vivienne C. Pineda, was crowned Miss Tacloban, who said that “Resilience is seeing Taclobanons with their smiles back on their faces again. It is about standing here again in the Astrodome celebrating life after Haiyan.”
“People are happy that we are going back to normal. It’s really for the people,” said Romualdez, who was thankful for the support of the sponsors, such as private business companies, for funding many aspects of the festival.
The centerpiece of the Sangyaw Festival was the Parade of Lights on June 29, attended by thousands of people. About 20 floats by different barangays, schools and private companies paraded down Tacloban’s main streets — Justice Romualdez, Rizal, Imelda and Real — all blinking with light-emitting diodes. They were accompanied by dancers and merrymakers, competing for people’s attention as well as for prizes.
The Parade of Lights was conceptualized by Cristina and her husband five years.
We want to do something different,” she related. “The old fiesta was similar to any other fiesta [in the Philippines]. Gusto naman namin medyo kakaiba. You don’t want to be a copycat; you want to be unique. We want something that’s Tacloban’s very own. The Parade of Lights is, I think, the first in the Philippines, something different, something new. It was also inspired when we went to Disneyland and we saw that.”

“Symbolically, we want to be the light to the region,” she added. 

Scintillating floats during the Parade of Lights of the Sangyaw Festival
A Parade of Lights participant in luminous costume
The big perya near the Tacloban City Astodome 
The newly renovated Santo Niño Church of Tacloban City