|The grand champion of the Sandugo Festival Street Dancing Competition, the group from Bohol Island State University's Bilar campus|
One of the charming characteristics of Bohol is its people’s friendliness. One can feel it as one goes around the island province—the generally shy and smiling people, the pleasant provincial air and unspoilt landscape. It is not surprisingly that the island in the Central Visayas, about 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, has become one of the top destinations of both domestic and foreign tourists. The province has it all—heritage, beaches, diving sites, adventure facilities, unique fauna and landscapes, resorts both posh and rustic, etc.
Captured by Bohol’s beauty and charm, visitors always return and more are lured, establishing a friendship with the island. In 2001, more than 95,000 vacationed in Bohol, and the number steadily climbed up to more than 641,000 in 2012. But on October 15, 2013, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the province, severely affecting it as well as its tourism. The devastation can be dramatically seen in its centuries-old Spanish colonial churches, including those declared National Cultural Treasures, which was heartbreaking.
Fortunately, aid and support from the rest of the country as well as from the United States, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Germany and the international community, poured in. Until now, some agencies and countries are still helping Bohol in its recovery. The Philippines’ cultural agencies banded together for the restoration of heritage churches, which are an essential part of Bohol’s uniqueness and attraction as well as an important part of Boholano communities and lives. Boholanos often cite their religiosity as a prominent characteristic. The United States is helping Bohol develop more sites for tourism. Bohol itself is rising up, and stronger and more sanguine as seen in the recent Sandugo Festival.
Like most festivals in numerous parts of the Philippines, recently created or transformed from traditional celebrations, the Sandugo Festival involves many activities to gather people to celebrate and enjoy, to entice tourists and visitors, and to showcase the place’s cultures, arts and products. Usually, the festival takes on a place’s most known cultural icon or historical event to be its focal point, motif and symbol of identity. While Bohol is known for many unique things, it is widely known for a historical pact of friendship.
Translated as pacto de sangre in Spanish and blood compact in English, sandugo is a native practice or ritual of sealing friendship and forging mutual cooperation, involving the leaders of two groups. The word actually means “one blood,” and it implied a lasting and deeper kind of relationship to the point that the two groups become one, of one blood. The leaders involved had to make an incisions on their arms, pour their blood in one cup to be mixed with wine or water, and drink the mixture. It is one of the most dramatic and profound friendship pacts I know. And the most famous sandugo was carried out between Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Bohol chieftain Datu Sikatuna in March 16, 1565, and is considered the first international treaty of friendship in the Philippines. A monument of the occasion, made by sculptor and National Artist Napoleon Abueva, was erected at the barangay of Bool in the Bohol capital of Tagbilaran City, initially thought to be the actual site of the famous sandugo (until later findings pointed to Hinawanan in the adjacent town of Loay), and is regularly visited by tourists.
That sandugo was adapted into the provincial seal and later as a symbol and identity for the festival. It is apt in the idea that the festival is a celebration of friendships among Boholanos as well as for visitors who have become friends and are treated as friends, and an occasion to form new friendships.
The first Sandugo Festival was held from July 20 to 22 in 1989, as part of the Fiesta Islands campaign of the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp. Subsequent festivals were celebrated for weeks and even for a month. July was chosen because the foundation day of the province is on July 22 and the charter city day of Tagbilaran is on July 1, both becoming part of the Sandugo Festival.
This year, July in Bohol is studded with beauty pageants, entertainment, cultural shows, parties, trade fairs, food, gathering and recognition rites, especially in the last few days of the month and all held in Tagbilaran.
The festival was highlighted by the grand gathering and homecoming of Boholanos from abroad called Tigum Bol-anon sa Tibuok Kalibutan (TBTK), especially on the 161st founding anniversary of the province. One of the TBTK events was the awarding of the Ten Outstanding Boholanos Around the World (TOBAW), given every three years. The most recent roster of honourees includes Dr. Maria Juliet Canete-Ceniza, agriculturist and educator; Leo Abaya, production designer and filmmaker; Shanon Pamaong, fashion designer; Dr. Jose Abueva, education administrator; Virgilio Loquellano Mendez, lawyer; Dr. Nicanor Lopez, medical doctor; Edgardo Ingking, policeman; and Bernardito Auza, Catholic archbishop.
Music is integral in Boholano culture and the province has many musical traditions and prominent musicians and singers. The locals’ musicality is displayed at the Bohol Sandugo Song Festival at the Bohol Cultural Center in July 25, 2015. It was a contest of original pop songs, all written by Boholanos and in Cebuano, the main language of the province. This year, twelve finalists were selected, most of them dealing with love and hope—“Gugma Ko, Pauli Na,” composed by Clyde B. Ebojo and interpreted by Benjamin Tubio; “Mabuhi ka, Boholano,” composed by John Rey Fuertes and interpreted by Mercedita Chiachon and Fuertes; “Ana-a ang Paglaum,” composed by Ralph Maligro and interpreted by Alma Mida Golosino; “Umol sa Kapalaran,” composed by Neri Glor Pana and interpreted by Lizette Cesista; “Baybay,” composed and interpreted by Gee Manfred Suaybaguio; “Dili Sayon,” composed and interpreted by Roben John Luna; “Dili pa Ulahi,” composed by Soc Saletrero and interpreted by Floryn Rose Vergara; “Kitang Duha,” composed by James Cyril Tadena and interpreted by Tadena and Anne Bethany Basilio; “Maghulat,” composed by Tony Galido Pucalba and interpreted by Robert Namoc; “Plaka,” composed by Joseph Gara and interpreted by Angelito Zamora, Jr.; “Ikaw Lang,” composed by Bobbitte Lenteria and interpreted by Lenteria and Marivel Lor; and “Ing-ani Na,” composed by Joseph Lloyd Pozon and interpreted by Pozon and Christine Nunez.
Judges chose “Ana-a ang Paglaum” to be the best among them, winning for Maligro a cash prize of P40,000 and trophy. Meanwhile “Plaka” won second place and “Mabuhi Ka, Boholano” third. Vergara was hailed as Best Interpreter.
More people trooped to the Bohol Wisdom School Gymnasium for the “Concert of Champions” on July 27. The show featured El Gamma Penumbra, the shadow theater troupe who won the top prize in this year’s Asia’s Got Talent, and Bohol’s own Loboc Children’s Choir, which has garnered international accolades over the years.
Foodies and the general public in general revelled in flavors with the second staging of the International Fusion Nights, which ran for five days, from July 22 to 26, at Tagbilaran’s Plaza Rizal, just across the provincial capitol and the Saint Joseph the Worker Cathedral. Inspired by the night food markets that are popping up in Metro Manila, International Fusion Nights can be a glimpse of the emerging food scene of Bohol, featuring not only home-grown restaurants but also resort and hotel restaurants as well, which really lowered their prizes so that the ordinary Boholanos can enjoy their specialties. Bellevue Resort, for example, offered their bestselling empanadas, which normally sell for about P80 each, for only P20 each. I tried a great Belgian chicken dish with chips at the booth of Linaw Resort, which is owned by Belgians at Alona Beach.
Organized by the Bohol Association of Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants, and open from five in the afternoon to 11 in the evening, International Fusion Nights also featured T2 Lounge Bar and Resto’s European dishes; Ocean Suites’ international fares; Hola Mexi-Asian Fusion Café’s special tacos and other Mexican treats; Egay’s Farm’s organic food and native chicken dishes; Astoria Plaza’s international and Filipino dishes; Just Sizzling’s favorite bar chows; and Thirsty Fresh Fruit Juices and Shakes’ quenchers.
But the most spectacular event, as with any other Philippine festivals, was the street dancing competition and parade on July 26. Eight contingents from different municipalities and institutions—Anda, Cabigtian, Mabini, Ubay, Camayaan High School of Loboc, Baclayon, Bohol Island State University’s (BISU) Bilar branch and Tagbilaran— in their colorful costumes paraded and danced along Carlos P. Garcia Avenue, Tagbilaran’s main thoroughfare, until they ended up at the Carlos P. Garcia Sports Complex, where the grand showdown happened. Their dance dramas told of their town’s as well as of Bohol’s culture and history, particularly the sandugo and the province’s importance as tourist destination. They can be elaborate with lots of props, embellishments such as arches and backdrops, and large replicas of like the Chocolate Hills or carabaos.
The showdown was preceded by an elaborate dance-drama re-enactment of the sandugo story by Vanguardians Dance Company with the special participation of Bohol governor Edgardo Chatto playing Datu Sikatuna. The re-enactment included a priestess or a babaylan character who foresaw a dire future and tried to warn the datu. She was dismissed and the sandugo was enacted. This performance was followed by an interpretative dance from the Holy Name University Diwanag Dance Theater and Cultural Troupe.
The program went for the whole afternoon and concluded at seven in the evening with the frenetic BISU declared the grand champion. BISU has been grand champions for the past three years, and was given additional recognition for that. The Tagbilaran group, which brought in a whole hut as well as a real motorcycle to a scene of tourists arriving in Bohol as well as enacted their own version of the sandugo, was the first runner-up, while the second runner-up was the Baclayon contingent. Fireworks lit up the sky as finale and on ground the foam party was being prepared. Tourists joined local parade spectators as they spilled into the streets.
“It’s amazing that the tourism industry is a very resilient industry,” noted Chatto. “It bounces back every time there is a problem. It is easy to recover as long as there is consistency in the rehabilitation and promotions.”
He was speaking about the recovery of Bali after the bombing in 2002 and Thailand after the tsunami in 2004. He had visited the sites after the tragedies to learn lessons in recovery, without knowing that he would face a similar predicament.
“Bohol is lucky that after earthquake the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization was brought here,” Chatto related, who revealed that the WTO head is a personal friend.
The agency held drew up a tourism recover plan, and CNN came to package the ideas that were formulated.
While not as high as the previous years, the year after the earthquake, 2014, posted 455,255 visitor arrivals. The Bohol provincial government is optimistic that tourism will pick up and it starts this year, which they designated as Visit Bohol Year. It is fortunate that tourism infrastructures and facilities were not damaged by the earthquake, but people have images of devastations when thinking of Bohol. Apart from the heritage churches, there were minimal damages in other parts of the province. Developments in tourism are becoming more vibrant. In fact, two major resorts open this year—Henann Resort and Be Resorts and Spa, both locally owned and managed—at the beach and tourist area of Tawala in Panglao Island. More resorts are set to open, anticipating the visitor influx when the international airport on Panglao is completed in 2017. Construction started on June 22 and is expected to be finished in 30 months.
“When the airport opens, we expect arrivals to really rise steadily,” Chatto said.
For this, they are developing sites in other parts of Bohol, especially the northern and eastern parts including the towns of Anda, which has a fine white-sand beach, and Ubay. Additionally, roads into the interior parts of Bohol are expected to be finished soon as well as the repair and rehabilitation of a cruise ship port in Loon. Bohol has become a preferred stop for cruises recently. Five cruise ships have docked this year.
“We don’t want tourists to just stay in Panglao,” said the governor. “This is to distribute the gains of tourism to other areas of the province, and at the same time preserve the environment of Panglao.”
This vibrant recovery of Bohol’s tourism Chatto partly attributed to “very cooperative and dynamic investors.” On the other hand, Lucas Nuñag, owner of Amarela Resort in Panglao and head of the Bohol Tourism Council, emphasized the positive relationship between the private stakeholders and the local government, which he described as very supportive. It is a relationship which can be akin to friendship. And Bohol’s friendships with its visitors and guests will also be part of keeping the province throbbing. As it sees forging new paths and relationships, those who have visited the province will keep returning as if into the arms of an old friend and help out in their own ways.
|Contingent from Anda|
|Bohol governor Edgardo Chatto and his wife Maria Pureza Veloso-Chatto|
|Contingent from Baclayon|
|Contingent from Bohol Island State University's Bilar campus|
|Contingent from Mabini|
|Contingent from Cabigtian|
|Contingent from Camayaan National High School of Loboc|
|The Masculados performed during intermission|
|The Sandugo re-enactment by the Vanguardians Dance Company|
|Bohol govervor Edgar Chatto played the role of Datu Sikatuna|
|Contingent from Tagbilaran City|
|Contingent from Ubay|
|El Gamma Penumbra in the "Concert of Champions"|
|The Loboc Children's Choir|
|Sandugo International Fusion Nights at Plaza Rizal|
|The Sandugo Song Festival|