Category Archives: Festivals

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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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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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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“Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?”

 

Pamulinawen Festival at Aliwan Fiesta 2014  (photo from Aliwan Facebook Page)

Pamulinawen Festival at Aliwan Fiesta 2014 (photo from Aliwan Facebook Page)

“Sa Laoag ba nagsimula ang sabong? Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?” These questions were raised by one of the official commentators at the 2014 Aliwan Fiesta, the country’s biggest festival of festivals staged last Saturday at the CCP Complex in Pasay City. The commentator, who said he is also Ilocano, was bewildered when the Laoag City contingent interpreted the Pamulinawen Festival as cockfighting. Such bewilderment, dear karikna, was shared by a whole nation, or at least those who saw the event in person, through television broadcast or on the Internet.

But before I proceed with my humble observations, let me express my admiration for the 300-plus strong Laoag City contingent who gave their all in their performance. I am personally aware of how hard they labored, how much they sacrificed, and how they put their heart every step of the way to make their city proud. Kudos to their stellar production team headed by Christian Espiritu, an exceptionally talented performance artist; to all the support staff, dancers, propsmen, instrumentalists, singers, designers, sewers, cooks, architects, engineers, and other volunteers—all of whom were passionate in carrying out their respective roles. Credit also goes, of course, to the City Government of Laoag led by Mayor Chevylle Fariñas who supported the group.

Having said these, there was no question, dear karikna, about the Laoag contingent’s dedication and talent. The bewilderment comes from what is really the most important element of any authentic festival: the story. An event or ritual significant to the history and culture of a people, a particular agricultural product, means of livelihood, food, animal, or plant endemic to the place—these are highlighted in festivals. In short, they are about something a place and its people are truly proud of and thankful for.

Pamulinawen as sabong? While it is true that some Ilocanos may be involved in pallot (Ilocano for cockfighting), there is no proof either that such gambling activity started here or that we are doing it here more than anywhere else. It is questionable, too, whether among many things we can choose to celebrate, this gruesome hobby is really what we take pride in.

So why the choice of story? Inside sources say the pallot narrative was picked because it is a “winning piece.” This is because scenes inside the cockpit are really exciting and colourful. Given the lively character of more popular festivals like Cebu’s Sinulog, Iloilo’s Dinagyang, Bacolod’s MassKara, or Kalibo’s Ati-atihan, Pamulinawen organizers probably wanted something really flashy, although flashy is not really Ilocano. Continue reading

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Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’

Up, Sarrat Mayor Edito Balintona (left); Down, Bangui Mayor Salvacion Cimatu (center)

In her welcome remarks at the phenomenally successful Tan-ok ni Iocano Festival of Festivals, Nov. 17 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City, Governor Imee Marcos noted cheerfully that the delegations were well supported by their respective ‘stage mayors’, using the term in the same context as ‘stage mothers.’ Two mayors, however, went several steps further and took the stage, the center stage no less, and literally.

On a night of splendid dancing, heart-stopping stunts, and an overflow of Ilokano Talent, Honorable Edito Balintona, mayor of Sarrat, was no doubt the lousiest performer. Nearing the climax of his town’s Binakol Festival presentation, Balintona came out seated on top of a huge wooden structure, not unlike a parade float, together with a lady who, I would later learn, is his tourism officer, Dona Siazon. The mayor, who seemed at a loss, was seen being given instructions by Siazon as the performance went on, no doubt an insult to the efforts of dancers who attended painstaking practices for long hours so that they can perfect their act. But there was one thing the mayor did so well… wave at the crowd, a sea of humanity so huge it could have been impossible for him to resist the temptation of appearing on stage …to wave.

“What is their mayor doing there?” asked some spectators who also made comments that are too disrespectful to see print. Judges, sources say, gave Sarrat’s performance one of the lowest scores.

Honorable Salvacion “Vacie” Cimatu, mayor of the windmills town of Bangui, can surely dance. And I know she can sing as well. It was the second time she top-billed her town’s number. She performed, too, in last year’s inaugural edition of Tan-ok. Continue reading

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Now, this is really something

Sometimes, as a writer, a title for an article pops in my mind before I write the piece. And that was the case when I went to the “Himala sa Buhangin” event of the provincial government at the Paoay Sand Dunes last May 10.

It was not just that there were a lot of activities that day: a sand castle building contest, 4×4 race, zorb ball rides, installation art, sand boarding, fire and belly dancing, a free concert featuring Up Dharma Down and Wolfgang, and endless stargazing up the sky and down the sandy earth where celebrities set foot. It was the way the activity was conducted and its magnitude.

There were free rides to and from the venue. Portable toilets were available and sufficient. Security was well maintained. Stalls served delectable food. And more. I felt that preparations were really painstaking and were executed with a lot of class and much love. That’s it, dear karikna. That is what makes the difference in any event. When you feel loved and valued by the people behind it… when you feel that they went the extra mile. It was the same feeling I had in Bohol each time I went to their tourist sites’ comfort rooms that were air-conditioned and spic and span.

Capitol Media Head Jun Gudoy put the crowd at 3,000-5,000 though I could believe there was more. I observed that 70 to 80 percent of those who attended the event were local government officials and employees, barangay and SK officers, and students who were doing summer jobs in government offices. Around 20 to 30 percent, many of whom are from Paoay, went there on their free will, and that, of course, includes me and two of my cousins who were on vacation from Manila.

Cultural activist Carlos Celdran was there. And he was amazed at how much the people were enjoying the activity. He said “Himala sa Buhangin” was a true festival of the people, unlike meaningless festivals that have sprouted left and right. He offered an interesting insight, “If it is good for the people, then it must be good for the tourists,” the famous tour guide said. And I agree. Any festival must have its own people in mind. If tourists come, it must only be because they are drawn to partake in a revelry that has evolved to celebrate what is best about their community. Of all the activities organized by the province, Himala sa Buhangin has, so far, the best potential to beef up arrivals. We are gifted with a beautiful desert which we find some use for only once in a while when filmmakers shoot movies. Now, we have seen its promise. And wow!

The PBA All-stars, who added glitter to the event, surely enjoyed every bit. And the masses had a field day meeting their favorite cage players, both the veterans and the upstarts. My personal favorite was Arwind Santos who I have come to know since his FEU days. Even with fame and fortune, he has remained humble and courteous. “Very cute at mabango,” was how my niece Tintin found the beefcake. She also had a photo with ace model Borgy Manotoc.

Speaking of meat, one of the night’s surprises came from the Fort Ilocandia Chinese Restaurant booth where food was sold at insanely low prices: chicken feet (8 pcs.), one of their specialties, was priced at only 50 pesos; dumplings at 35; sushi and maki, 55; two pieces siopao, 35, and other delicacies and breads that would normally cost an arm and a leg at the five-star hotel. Plaza del Norte’s Mongolian Rice, priced at 50, was also a good deal, given its generous portions of seafood and spices.

And there was beer. It’s good when cold, and even better when free. My former student, Pinili Vice Mayor Rommel Labasan, who was in a group of officials from their town, extended me a warm handshake and a bottle of SanMig Light. Later that night, Bombo Radyo boss Tony Casimiro and officers of our local chamber of commerce headed by New India’s Dilip Mansukhani, also invited me to their table for barbecue.

Wholesome families came, too, like that of eyebrow goddess Shirley Felipe who was with her lovely kids Crystal, Edward, and Dominic. I am sure karikna loyalist and bff Tita Lita Chestnut would have enjoyed the night, too.

Governor Imee Marcos thus has all the reasons to be happy. Himala sa Buhangin was a smashing activity. In our brief chat, she joyfully mentioned her Moroccan inspiration (She studied studied French and Dialectical Arabic in Morocco) which showed in how the tents were ornately and magically designed. It was like a dream… a dreamy Arabian night.

So, we tried to take pictures at the tent’s couches occupied hours earlier by PBA players. It was already empty by then. We were having a fun time just silently taking pictures with our creative poses. But, oh, some things were too good to be true. Police officers arrived and shooed us away. It was quite embarrassing because it felt like we were doing something illegal, and in public. No, I did not do a Claudine or a Raymart, we just silently left. By providence, though, the governor happened to pass by and instructed the men in uniform, “Hayaan niyo sila, dun lang kayo sa gilid.” And then she even suggested that I lay on the couch like a sultan, which I did.

We would later learn that the police came under the instructions of a non-elective Capitol officer whose first name is similar to that of a feisty lady senator and whose surname means grass in Filipino. Some Capitol people say the lady really has some air and a tendency to be rough, mainly because she has been a powerful fixture for a long time.

But that was a forgettable incident. Still, my only regret is that I only have two thumbs, four including my toes, for I would have given ten thumbs up, or more, for that event that was really, really something.

Walang Himala?

Nope, meron. I went to one last May 10.

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Sked! Sked! The 2012 Laoag City Fiesta

Hollywood has the stars. Laoag has the sun. Welcome to Hallaoag.

Wish to share with you, dear karikna, the line up of activities for this year’s Laoag City Fiesta. There are events of various shapes and textures slated throughout February, and I am sure you will get yourselves interested in a thing or two.

This is the first time I have this kind of information on my hand. Though I am with the media, there has always been, in previous years, a dearth of information on the fiesta activities, and even I would be kept in the dark as to the goings on. I am sure many others would have wanted to join past revelries but fell victims, too, of this failure in communication. The provincial government is definitely doing better in this regard, with its effective use of all forms of media in getting their constituents posted.

You have to know, dear karikna. This is because the fiesta of Laoag, the province’s capital city, is effectively the fiesta of the whole of Ilocos Norte. And also because it is your taxes being spent here. Such knowledge could also serve useful for practical purposes, such as knowing when and where traffic is going to be heavy. By the way, the theme of this year’s festivities is “Marching Valiantly to the Future” or, you guessed it, MVF, the mayor’s initials. Continue reading

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