Golden Epal

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We, the people of Laoag, will celebrate our golden anniversary as a city tomorrow, June 19, and I am glad that the scheduled activities are modest. I hope the event will be meaningful, and for good reason.

Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be grateful and to celebrate. Laoag today stands as one of the finest cities in the country, having reaped various distinctions including those on, but not limited to, the environment, peace and order, governance, literacy, and the arts. All these were achieved not due to one person or two, but on account of our collective good work as a people.

However, a few weeks before the celebration, tarpaulin posters of a former politician have dotted the city’s public spaces. The posters bear the name and face of ex-councilor Melvin de la Cuesta (yes, that guy who could not make up his mind on who he really witnessed was the killer of Laoag City Vice Mayor Jimmy Chua in 2005) and in big print, “Thank you so much for your research!”

Almost all who see the posters are puzzled. What research? And who is thanking him?

Let me give a background. De la Cuesta authored the city ordinance mandating the anniversary celebration of Laoag City’s charter (RA 4584) signed on June 19, 1965 by President Diosdado Macapagal. The ordinance was the subject of controversy as other councilors, including Atty. Toto Lazo, insisted that Laoag’s cityhood must instead be celebrated on January 1 because RA 4584 clearly stipulated January 1, 1966 as effectivity date after its approval by the people through a plebiscite.

The research being referred to here is De la Cuesta’s very simple effort of going to the National Library, and maybe the Senate archives, to find details about Laoag’s Charter. In the advent of the Internet, that is something even grade school pupils can do. Only real “researchers,” especially those who immensely contribute to society– for instance, scientists who successfully discover cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS, develop a machine producing free and sufficient electricity, or invent an equipment swiftly detecting and exterminating epal politicians–deserve such grand show of gratitude.

But, who is thanking him?

It is very obvious that the tarpaulin posters are self-advertisements. It is De la Cuesta thanking himself. The city government could not have propagated those tarpaulins because, according to well-placed sources, the top city officials ordered the removal of those posters in the downtown. Those hung in the barangays are still abound.

At least four of the incumbent city councillors are barred by term limits to run again next year, probably a golden opportunity seen by De la Cuesta—who, after ruining his credibility due to the Jimmy Chua case, has perennially lost in elections in Laoag and Sarrat.

De la Cuesta made confusing testimonies on the death of Chua before implicating, and later clearing, then mayor, now vice mayor, Michael V. Fariñas. On account of the fickle-minded whistleblower’s recanting, the case was since dismissed by the Department of Justice due to lack of probable cause.

If there is anyone we should be thankful to hence, it is our beloved city Laoag who has nurtured us in the past 50 years and more–not some flip-flopping, self-aggrandizing politician. But if indeed we are in the mood to thank individuals, how can we forget Congressman Simeon Valdez, who sponsored the bill for Laoag’s cityhood? And how about Eulalio Siazon, our city’s first mayor, who earnestly campaigned for a yes vote in the plebiscite?

Today, there are no tarpaulin posters in their honor, but they deserve to be remembered by a grateful people.

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Terrible Ilocos Norte hotels and resorts based on TripAdvisor

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ILOCOS NORTE has definitely made a mark as one of the Philippines’ top travel meccas, given the province’s amazing natural, cultural, and historical attractions, plus fun activities to boot. But, given the influx, how are our hotels meeting the demands of guests?

Many tourists depend on Internet-reviews to check the quality of hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related establishments. The most popular site is TripAdvisor.com which allows reviewers to provide both quantitative ratings and qualitative information based on their actual experience. Guests rate the establishment on a scale of 1-5 based on the following criteria: location, sleep quality, rooms, service value, and cleanliness. The written reviews are very useful for people planning their trip. One would not pay a budget price and demand five-star accommodation, but would expect decent services and facilities. In the same breath, expectations and demands run high when the price paid is high. At the end of the day, value for money weighs heavily.

I will write about the best and average hotels next, but let me devote this post to the bad and the worst.

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Not just a beauty pageant: A review of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015

from the Miss IN Facebook page

from the Miss IN Facebook page

The Coronation Night of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015 held May 9 at the Centennial Arena before a crowd of around 6,000 measured up to the hype it generated in the past weeks. One can argue that it is one of the best provincial beauty pageants in the country and, no exaggerations here, probably among the world’s finest.

I offer the following review.

A visual feast The set design by Ohm David, a resident in big Ilocos Norte events, was stunning as usual. The images on a giant HD screen were carefully chosen and animated, providing ambiance to the competition’s various parts. For instance, flashed for the long gown competition were the buttresses of the Paoay Church on a starry night. Miniature windmills and huge harps also accentuated the stage in succession. I am amazed by the organizers’ eye for details from the grand set to the flower arrangements on the judges’ table. The lighting was perfect, but, given the inherent acoustic limitations of the venue, the sounds could have been better.

All the production performers were good, but the background dancers during the swimsuit competition nailed it best. Wearing avant-garde costumes that fused Ilocano and Japanese elements, the dancers’ vogue movements were a joy to watch. They delivered a fresh presentation that did not steal the show from, but instead trained the spotlight on, the real stars: the 23 beauties. I have seen a lot of performances choreographed by Christian Espiritu, but that one, a total work of genius, is yet the best.

The gowns and costumes created by our local designers were mostly remarkable, some of them even world class. In the evening gown competition won by Miss Pagudpud in an Amor Albano creation, the work of Jaynny Lao perfectly donned by Miss Laoag was also a hit. I am really glad of the fabulous display of artistry and talent. But organizers says some of these designers already have attitude problems even before they make it really big. Our source did not elaborate. One wonders, by the way, why Windell Madis of Batac, the third fashion designer from Ilocos Norte to make it to a fashion-oriented reality TV show, did not make anything for anyone, not even for his own town. Something, dear karikna, is amiss here.

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My dream summer workshop for 2015

phone workshopI am grateful to my parents for sending me to workshops–mostly held during summer when the young kid’s mind is idle and is potentially a devil’s, well, workshop.

I remember being in a theater company and starring in two one-act-plays–Dionisio Salazar’s Makapaghihintay ang Amerika and another play which title escapes my mind, but I do remember that it was one heavy, very meaningful piece where all of us actors wore black. I was, ehem, best actor in that one-night-only performance, and you can check with my fellow actors–Dennis Raquiza and Philip Zenon Diego, two of the most sought-after Ilocano creatives today–about this claim. The summer heat was intense but it was no match to the sizzling friendships I forged both with my fellow trainees and our passionate teachers.

If I were to bring back the proverbial hands of time to that part of my life when I had no responsibilities but to prepare myself how to be a productive member of society, I now have in mind what workshop to attend. Obviously, dear karikna, it’s on the poster that goes with this write up.

I can personally guarantee of the excellent artistry, craftsmanship, and versatility of the three workshop trainors: Ms. Jane, former manager of Samtoy Books, have conducted a number of successful workshops and exhibits. Ms. Marianne is one of Ilocos’ most sought-after photographers who has put together an amazing picture book. The 3rd member is Russel Andrew Villena whose expertise in digital photography and graphics technology is difficult to match.

I can entrust my own kids to them, only that I don’t have any yet.

 

 

 

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Batac a genius… no loser!

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Judeleah Pucan, best female performer

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pictures from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Why I am proud of Laoag this time.)

Not a few people are concerned about Batac’s apparent downfall in their Tan-ok performances as shown by their skidding rankings. They were champion in the Festival of Festivals’ debut in 2011, 2nd place in 2012, 3rd place in 2013, and fourth this year.

It’s easy to believe in these numbers and hastily conclude that Batac is losing its artistic prowess, but I strongly contest this. They, in fact, won not just trophies, but even more for themselves and Ilocos Norte for doing what they do best.

The best thing about Batac folks is their healthy dose of insanity which I think is good because human civilization advances not because of those who blindly conform but on account of men and women who bravely challenge the status quo, and dare to be different. After all, this Home of Great Leaders is not known for people who remain comfortable with the world as usual.

Last Saturday, they landed only fourth, but did you, dear karikna, realize that Batac made history that night by staging the grandest musicale Ilocos Norte has ever seen?

On the Tan-ok stage where many of the contingents are still infected by the Visayan fever (ala Sinulog and Dinagyang), Batac dared enough to present something fresh, and excel in it. Let me discuss in detail my observations not only from the show but during some of their practices which I had the chance to watch.

Delicious story

The empanada was shown in response to the shifting tastes of the Spanish-era Ilustrados. Immersed in the lifestyle of their colonial masters, the tastes and preferences of these educated elite were strongly influenced by the West, but time came when their palates looked for something novel. They wanted a fusion between the Western way of cooking and rich native flavors. Thus, the Batac Empanada which is one reason why Ilocos Norte today is known as a gastronomic mecca. This was shown in the well-executed Kitchen Musicale where, in a party hosted by a Señora, Ilustrados refused to eat the usual fare (e.g.hamon, paella, lechon, embutido), moving the servant Indios to serve the Batac Empanada. Continue reading

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Why this time I am proud of Laoag

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All pictures, except the two below, are from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Batac a genius… no loser!)

It was the fourth edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals, now considered as the biggest gathering of Ilocanos, having drawn almost 50,000 in the Marcos Stadium last Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium. Celebrating greatness in most creative forms, the show featured once more performances from each of the 21 municipalities and 2 cities of Ilocos Norte.

Tan-ok, arguably the most anticipated event organized by the province, has steadily led to a state of maturity, taking small steps since its debut in 2011.  Without blinking an eye, I’d say that last installment was the best ever. There were a lot of breakthroughs—not just steps but strides towards even greater planes for this phenomenon. Let me, dear karikna, detail my observations through this series of critical notes.

Truthful, clear stories

“Your stories are your wealth,” the judges posited during the debriefing meeting held the day after the competition. They expressed amazement over the clarity and richness of the narratives they saw unfold in most performances. Unlike the street-dance based festivals in the Visayas like the Sinulog and Dinagyang, the strength of Ilocano presentations indeed lies on our people’s tales.

Personally, I am glad that the stories presented this year were not only entertaining, but more truthful. Indeed, as confessed by Edna Vida Froilan, one of the country’s dance icons, who sit as one of seven Tan-ok judges coming from diverse backgrounds, judges are like “babies” who don’t know or know very little about the culture of the locality. They thus evaluate performances based only on what they see. The burden of determining authenticity, therefore, are not on their shoulders.

It was wise of the festival organizers headed by creative director Aian Raquel to hold a story conference prior to the big event. I am happy (and humbled) to have been invited to share my thoughts to choreographers and key people involved in drafting the storylines of every contingent. I would usually just write critiques after the show, just like this one. Interacting with our local artists early on was a welcome experience because it allowed me to talk more on the future, and ramble less about the past. During the conference, I already had a feeling that this year’s Tan-ok will be very different. That feeling was right, and it was very evident in the case of Laoag. Continue reading

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Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories

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Tan-ok choreographers and tourism officers from around Ilocos Norte

Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.

I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.

Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.

I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.

At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.

In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.

Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012.  Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.

In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.

But why has Laoag consistently won? Continue reading

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