Kalanguya Festival (Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya)

The next day, after breakfast, we observed the beautiful and colorful parade of 16 floats (each representing a barangay) along the National Highway as wound its way to the Santa Fe Sports and Cultural Center at the town proper.

Brgy. Bantinan float

Brgy. Bantinan float

Brgy. Sta. Rosa float

Brgy. Sta. Rosa float

Each float had their barangay’s beauty candidate, wearing a Kalanguya costume, on board. Floats were also bedecked with the barangay’s farm produce (chayote, eggplants, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, ginger, bananas, pechay, pineapples, etc.), baskets, walis tambo (tiger grass brooms) and flowers.

The winning walis tambo-themed float of Brgy. Bacneng

The winning walis tambo-themed float of Brgy. Bacneng

At the town proper, the street dancing competition unfolded with a street performance held in front of the municipal hall and the ground demonstrations at the Santa Fe Sports and Cultural Center.  Both showcased the Kalanguya’s costumes, dance and musical instruments.

Santa Fe Sports and Cultural Center

Santa Fe Sports and Cultural Center

Alexis, Roel, Ms. Lelia E. Blancaflor (DOT Region 2 acting director), Ms. Imelda A. Garduque, also from DOT Region 2, and I were asked to judge the competition.  We would also do so for the float competition. Three contingents – Kalahan, Canabaan National High School and Sta. Fe National High School presented story lines regarding a particular Kalanguya practice.

The street performance in front of the municipal hall

The street performance in front of the municipal hall

Ground demonstration

Ground demonstration

We also observed the padit, a grand canao (socio-religious celebration) ritual featuring the traditional (but shocking to others) butchering of pigs, native chickens and 2 carabaos.  These were then boiled and served to all attendees.  Tapey (native wine) was also served to guests while the bah-liw was chanted by tribal elders.

Kalanguyas performing the padit

Kalanguyas performing the padit

Later, officials, guests and barangay officials danced the tayaw, to the beat of gangha or gangsa (gongs). Indigenous sports such as bultong (wrestling), tug-of-war, bamboo pole climbing, wood chopping, gayang (spear throwing), hanggol (arm wrestling) and dapapnikillum (pig catching) plus tapey drinking and group chanting of the bah-liw were also featured.

A pig sacrifice

A pig sacrifice

Within the festival venue are 16 booths selling jams and jellies made from guava, santol, bignay or wild berries; farm produce such as camote, gabi, vegetables, yakun, sayote, etc.; Ifugao handicrafts such as rattan baskets, woodcarvings; tiger grass soft brooms; and exotic and beautiful handwoven fabrics used as tapis by women and g-strings by the men.

DSC07496

DSC07504

Farm produce at the Agri-Tourism Fair

Farm produce at the Agri-Tourism Fair

Sta. Fe Municipal Hall: Poblacion, Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. E-mail: info@santafe.gov.ph. Website: www.santafe.gov.ph.

Sangyaw Pasasalamat Parade (Tacloban City, Leyte)

Jandy and I arrived at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, via a Cebu Pacific flight, on the morning of June 29.  Grace, Cheska, Marve and Kyle were already in the city, having left the day before.  We arrived at my brother-in-law Manny’s house just in time for lunch.

The Sangyaw Pasasalamat Parade

The Sangyaw Pasasalamat Parade

His house was conveniently located along Avenida Veteranos, one of the major city streets that the Sangyaw Pasasalamat Festival (which honors Señor Santo Niño de Leyte, Tacloban City’s patron saint) parade would pass through (Real to Imelda then Rizal towards Romualdez and will end at the Kanhuraw Hill).

The Sto. Nino de Leyte is a favorite theme

The Sto. Nino de Leyte is a favorite theme

The parade, held nearly 8 months after Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) devastated the city and other parts of the Visayas, was a simple affair, tame and devoid of much extravagance and glamour as with previous festival parades.

Thank you in many languages

Thank you in many languages

Foreign aid workers also join in

Foreign aid workers also join in

The parade was participated in by more than a thousand merrymakers from 8 schools, 5 barangays, private companies (LBC, Talk and Text, Monterey, ABS-CBN, etc.), government agencies (PhilHealth, Department of Health, Department of Education, etc.), delegates from the various branches of the country’s armed services, and the humanitarian international non-government organizations (iNGOs) such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Volunteers for the Visayans, World Vision, Plan Philippines, Care Philippines, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), etc.. Eleven non-competing and six competing groups will join in the merrymaking. There were only 5 participating floats.

One of the participating floats

One of the participating floats

With its theme “Pasasalamat,” the parade now focuses on thanksgiving for those who survived the wrath of the super typhoon as well as for Taclobanons and Leyteños to express their gratitude to the different iNGOs whose heartwarming assistance and support helped Tacloban and the Taclobanons get back on their feet.

Lion dancers from the Fil-Chinese community

Lion dancers from the Filipino-Chinese community

The iNGOs also made this parade possible by taking care of the logistics, giving a subsidy of not less than PhP30,000 to each participating barangay and contingent.  During, the parade, thanks was expressed in the languages of the iNGOs –  Australia (Thoinks Moite), Belgium (Dank U), China (Xie Xie), France (Merci),  Germany (Dankeschön),  Greece (Efharisto), Hungary (Koszonom), India (Nandri), Indonesia (Terima Kasih), Italy (Grazie), Japan (Arigato), Korea (Kamsahamnida), New Zealand (Kiaora Koe), Russia (Blagodarya), Spain (Gracias), U.S.A. (Thank You), etc.

A drum and lyre band

A drum and lyre band

Though it was a gloomy Sunday, with scattered rain showers (but no excruciating heat from the sun), it was nice to see the people enjoying again and the city colorful, with many Taclobanons, in colorful costumes, joining the parade, exhibiting their unique innovations and creativity.

Sangyaw Parade (27)

Sangyaw Parade (37)

Sangyaw Parade (147)

It was still a parade with a rainbow of colors

It was still a parade with a rainbow of colors

The parade somehow relieved the stress and trauma that the Taclobanons have experienced after Typhoon Yolanda.  At the same time, it also helped people in the area to feel that life is returning back to normal in the city.

Kyle, Marve, Grace, Cheska and Jandy enjoying the parade

Kyle, Marve, Grace, Cheska and Jandy enjoying the parade

City Tourism Operations Office: City Hall, Kanhuraw Hiil, Tacloban City, Leyte. Tel: (053) 325-8955, (053) 325-2491, (053) 523-9671 & (053) 325-6248.

Sto. Domingo: Birthplace of the Sarung Banggi (Albay)

The next day, Bernard and I left the Governor’s Mansion in Legaspi City and took a jeep to Quick & Hearty for a buffet Filipino breakfast.  Here, we met up with Mr. Martin A. Calleja, head of Bicol Adventures Philippines and Viento de Mar Beach Resort in Bacacay. After breakfast, we made a short stopover at the DOT Region V office at Rawis where we met up with Regional Director Maria O. Ravanilla.  From here, we made the short 11.5 km. drive to the nearby quaint town of Sto. Domingo.

The author with Bernard and Dir. Maria Ravanilla

Sto. Domingo, formerly called Libog (a corruption of the Bicol term libot meaning “roundabout”), is nestled at the foot of Mayon Volcano. The town is noted for its numerous beach resorts along the jet black sand Kalayukaii Beach in Brgy. Kalayukaii, located 3 kms. east of the town.  At the Spanish-era (the former tribunal and presidencia built in 1832) municipal hall in Plaza Pugad Lawin, we made a courtesy call on Mayor Herbie  B. Aguas.

The municipal hall and fountain at Plaza Pugad Lawin

Also at the plaza, across the fountain and municipal hall is the picturesque Church of St. Dominic Guzman, the town’s most prominent landmark.

Check out “Church of St. Dominic Guzman

Church of St. Dominic Guzman

The town is also the birthplace of Potenciano V. Gregorio (May 19, 1880-February 12, 1939), the composer of the famous local ditty Sarung Banggi (meaning “one night”), the best known song in the Bicol dialect, on May 10, 1910.  The 8-day (May 18-25) Sarung Banggi Summer Festival, which features a folk song festival, immortalizes this love song and pays tribute to its illustrious local son.   His ancestral house was burned when a fire hit the town in 1961.

Potenciano V. Gregorio Mausoleum

On May 2005, Mayor Aguas, together with then Albay Gov. Fernando and First District Rep. Edcel Lagman, had Gregorio’s remains exhumed in La Loma Cemetery and brought home to Sto. Domingo for a municipal vigil and reinterred at the town’s cemetery with military honors. In 2006, a mausoleum and his bust, also at the town plaza, was erected and his remains transferred there.  In 2010, Gregorio was declared a municipal artist by the Sangguniang Bayan.

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Plaza Pugad Lawin, St. Domingo, Albay.  Tel: (052) 435-1357.
Department of Tourism Regional Office V: Rawis, Legaspi City.  Tel: (052) 435-0085 and 482-0715.  Fax: (052) 482-0712. E-mail: dot_bicol@yahoo.com. Website: www.wowbicol.com.

The Other Ati-Atihan Festival (Aklan)

The highlight of my 5-day visit to Aklan with Gil Bilog, my wife Grace’s first cousin (on her mother’s side), was our visit to Ibajay town to attend the Ati-Atihan.     Held on the weekend after the more well-known and recently held (just a week ago) Kalibo version of the festival, this Ati-Atihan is less commercialized but just as old and is said by Ibajaynons to be the original and more authentic of the two. It being a Sunday, Gil and I planned to leave very early to make it to the town’s 8:30 AM mass. Joining us was Carl Flores, John Paul Sta. Maria and Jayrel Vicedo, Grace’s first cousin, nephew and grandnephew respectively (all on her father’s side).  Jayrel was to drive us there on our Mitsubishi Adventure. We left Malay poblacion by 7:30 AM and the 35-km. drive took just a little over 30 mins. 

Gil and I outside the Church of St. Peter the Apostle

After parking our car at the town center, we made a short walk to the Church of St. Peter the Apostle.  When we entered the church, the main aisle was cleared of pews and the churchgoers, including us, stood at the sides.  Special guest was Kalibo Bishop Jose Corazon Talaoc who delivered his homily in Aklanon.  Many devotees brought images of the highly venerated Sto. Nino (Holy Child Jesus), in varying shapes and sizes.  Old stories said that the image of the Sto. Nino  miraculously protected Ibajay from the bandits and and Moro pirates by preventing the invaders from docking their ships along the shoreline of the town.

The church interior

The end of the mass signaled the start of the culminating parade, a competition among groups (representing different tribes), with devotees dressed as warriors in flamboyant and colorful costumes made from native materials adroitly fashioned into feathers, headdresses and vests and carrying images of the Sto. Nino. By tradition, the devotees paint their faces with black soot and imitated the playful likeness of the Ati (or Aetas), the short, dark-skinned and kinky-haired first settlers of the Philippines. Ibajay claims to be the original site where the Atis came down from the hills to celebrate with the lowlanders.

Devotees dressed in flamboyant and colorful costumes

This parade is coupled with festive merrymaking, with heads, torsos, hands and feet gyrating and swaying to the sounds of whistles and rhythmic, hypnotic and continuous beating of drums with repeated shouts of “Viva Kay Senor Sto, Nino Viva!”  Some tourists and locals also smeared their arms, legs, and even their whole torso with soot, and joined in the street dancing.

A coconut-themed float

There were also simple floats, representing the town’s different barangays, decorated with palm fronds, fruits and vegetables and the all-important image of the Sto. Nino. On stakes were cooked fish, grilled chicken,  succulent steamed mud crabs, cholesterol-rich lechon (roasted pigs) and even bayawak (monitor lizards). The parade wound through the town, from the municipal hall to the main highway and back to the town center ending with an entrance to the church for a blessing.

Bayawak and steamed mud crabs on stakes

Unlike other major festivals, there’s no big cash prize for the best float, costume or dancing. We watched the parade from our vantage point at the palatial residence of Ang Kasangga Partylist Cong. Teodorico “Nonong” T. Haresco, Jr. (a fourth cousin of Grace).  After the parade, we dined, as guests of Cong. Haresco, on lechon, prawns and a dessert of buko pandan.  After lunch, we dropped by the residence of Judge Cesar Sta. Maria (another fourth cousin of Grace) and posed by the Ibajay Municipal Hall before returning to Malay.

L-R: Jayrel, Gil, the author and Carl

Pinyasan Festival 2011 (Daet, Camarines Norte)

Pinyasan Street Dancing Competition

My last visit to Camarines Norte literally hit two birds with one stone as we covered the 150th birth anniversary of National Hero Jose Rizal (June 19) and the Pinyasan Festival (June 15-24) which coincided with Daet‘s 428th foundation anniversary and the quadricentennial of its St. John the Baptist parish.  Daet Mayor Tito Sarion, who was a town councilor in 1993, started the town’s Pinyasan Festival. Back in the1990s, while attending a Philippine Travel Mart Convention, Tito conceived of the idea of promoting a local festival in honor of the Formosa pineapple, the sweetest variety among home-grown pineapples in Camarines Norte and a major fruit product. The festival has significantly boosted the popularity of the pineapple (its other potentials then only known by local farmers and traders) and fortified industries related to it.   Today, foreign firm Sunzu Agri-Development, Inc. has a pineapple processing plant at Brgy Caayunan in Basud while another newly-established agro-industrial firm (Flora Farms Integrated, Inc.) in Brgy. Pamorangon in Daet has ventured into the production of food and other products derived from pineapple. There is also a Pineapple Island Resort-Hotel (Calasgasan, Daet), a new bus firm (Pineapple Gold Express) and countless newly created food recipes that include pineapple as ingredient.  Neighboring Basud town and local cooperatives, with the help of the local government and national agencies, have created new fiber products and the popular pineapple pie,  a contribution to the One Town One Product (OTOP) program, harnessing local creativity in to exploring product possibilities extracted from the fruit and sustaining a now major industry.

Mayor Tito Sarrion

This year is the 19th edition of the festival and this would be my first Pinyasan. Our three-day (June 17-19) visit to Daet didn’t extend to June 23, the day of the Grand Float Parade, but we did get to see the Miss Pinyasan/Miss Daet 2011 beauty contest and the Street Dancing and Best Marching Band Competition the next day. We had just returned from our Calaguas Islands tour when Bernard, Lee, TJ and I were invited to cover the beauty contest’s Coronation Night.   From the Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort (where we were booked), we were brought first to the Terrace Grille for dinner.  Here, we espied the candidates and guest Ms. Universe runner-up Ms. Venus Raj as they were about to leave and met up with Daet Mayor Tito Sarrion.  The pageant proper was held at Provincial Gym.  Ms.  Abigail “Abby” Ortega was crowned as Miss Pinyasan.  Runners-up were Ms. Renei Victoria Almoneda (Miss Daet, also Best in Swimsuit, Festival Costume Design and Evening Gown), Ms. Nicole Anne C. Gange (Miss Tourism and Miss Photogenic), Ms. Princess Joy Burce (First Runner-up), and Ms. Erika Bianca “Ekaa” Lasay (Second Runner-up).

Miss Pinyasan/Miss Daet 2011 winners
The next day, all four of us had our lunch at the K Sarap Snack Bar along Vinzons Ave.  Right after lunch, we went out along the Vinzons Ave. (and, later, to the First Rizal Monument) to watch the Street Dancing and Best Marching Band Competition.  The winners of the Miss Pinyasan (minus First Runner-up Ms. Burce) and town officials in a float (led by Mayor Sarrion) also joined the parade.  There were also a number of karetelas bedecked with pineapples and flowers.  The winners of the Street Dancing Competition were Barangay Cobangbang (first), Barangay 7 (second) and  Barangay Lag-on (third).  In the elementary school level, the Best Marching Band Competition winners were Talisay Elementary School (first), Daet Elementary School (second) and Gregorio Pimentel Elementary School (third), while at the high school level, the winners were St. Francis Parochial School (first), Tulay na Lupa National High School (second) and San Roque National High School (third).
 
Best Marching Band Competition

Agew na Pangasinan (Lingayen)

Street dancing parade

After our visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag, we proceeded to the capital town of Lingayen and made a courtesy call on Provincial Information Officer Mr. Orpheus “Butch” Velasco at the Provincial Capitol.  We arrived in time for the Parada na Dayew, a grand parade of floats that was part of the celebration of the province’s 431st founding anniversary dubbed “Agew na Pangasinan,” now on its second year.  With the theme “Aliguas na Baley, Aliguas na Luyag,” the parade featured 22 participating local government units (LGU) and 12 colorful floats that showcased the various products and development programs and projects of participating LGUs.

The Lingayen float

The float parade, which included a colorful presentation of street dances with contingents clad in local costumes and accompanied by drum, lyre and bugle corps., commenced at the Narciso Ramos Sports and Civic Center, then followed a fixed route to Artacho St., Poblacion Area, Maramba Blvd. and ended at the Capitol. The floats, decorated with indigenous and recyclable materials, provided a glimpse of Pangasinan’s best products such as the sugpo (prawns) and malaga of Binmaley, the delicious and sweet tasting mangoes of San Carlos City, the savory corn of Sto. Tomas, the famous bagoong (fish paste) of Lingayen, the walis tambo of Bautista, the puto of Calasiao and the tupig of Laoac.

A drum and bugle corp
Provincial Tourism Office: 2/F, Malong Bldg., Provincial Capitol Complex, Lingayen, Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 542-8007 and 542-6853.  E-mail: tourismpangasinan@yahoo.com

Pabirik Festival (Paracale, Camarines Norte)

Pabirik Festival

Paracale was one of three parishes (the others were Daet and Vinzons) celebrating the quadricentennial of their parish’s foundation, an event which I, event organizer Bernard Supetran, blogger Mark Vincent Nunez and mediamen Kara Santos (Sunday Inquirer) and Joselito “Lito” Cinco were to cover.  Our second day in the province was, coincidentally, also the high point of the town’s Pabirik Festival.  We arrived just as the street dancing parade was making its way into the town’s gym for the final judging.  We first dropped by the town’s Spanish-era Church of Our Lady of Candles which was reconstructed between 1888 and 1898 under the direction of Fr. Jose Cardenoso, the last Spanish priest to serve the parish.  After that, we proceeded to the gym to watch the contingents perform.

Church of Our Lady of Candles

The festival showcases the rich mining industry of the town (the pabirik is a tool used in gold mining) which started when a large gold mine was discovered here in 1626. Locals here still pan for gold.  In fact, the town’s name was derived from para cale, meaning “canal digger.” Paracale  is still the center of the jewelry-making industry and, although the art has declined in importance, the town is still regarded as a good place to buy finely-crafted gold jewelry such as the agimon (or alakdan), a flat necklace chain of the 19th century.  The festival  also coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Candles (Nuestra Senora del Candelaria), the town’s patroness and, as such, her statue is borne by most participating contingents in the street dancing competition, together with cardboard or wood replicas of the gold panning trade. Check out my Business Mirror article “Camarines Norte: 400 Years of Keeping the Faith.”

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Poblacion, Paracale, Camarines Norte.  Tel: (054) 449-1008.

Kuala Lumpur: New Year’s Day

Upon our return to our hotel from our Melaka trip, we decided to rest a bit. It was now just a few hours before New Year’s Eve, our first outside home and country, and we asked around at the front desk on where to spend our countdown party.  They suggested watching the free, spectacular fireworks displays at either the Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) or the Petronas Towers.  We opted for the latter.

The Last Dinner of the Year at Sushi Tei (Pavilion Mall)

Before anything else, we still have to take our dinner so we all walked to Pavilion Mall along Jalan Bukit Bintang and dined on Japanese cuisine at Sushi Tei.  Here, we were surprised to find out that our waiters were Filipinas.  One was already a supervisor.

Waiting for the New Year at Petronas Towers

After dinner, we returned to our hotel to change clothes and decided to start our long walk all the way to Petronas Tower.  Others were doing the same. The numerous pubs we passed by were also filled with countdown revelers.  When we arrived at the park in front of the iconic Petronas Towers, it was already packed full with local residents and foreign tourists.

The Brightly-Lit Petronas Twin Towers

At the stroke of midnight, the street party started, with kisses, hugs, greetings and shouts of “Happy New Year!,” just as spectacular fireworks started to lit up, coloring the sky near the brightly-lit, landmark towers, Mandarin Hotel and the other buildings around us. The show was over when the fireworks stopped. There were no crackling and exploding firecrackers like in Manila, just horns and merriment in the streets.  What a unique way to start the New Year.

The Spectacular Fireworks Show

Sushi Tei: Level 1, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: +603 2141 4640. Fax: +603 2141 466.

Sangyaw Festival (Tacloban City, Leyte)

Cocowayan Festival of Basilan

I was supposed to attend both the simultaneous Pintados Kasadyaan and the Sangyaw (derived from the Waray word meaning “to herald the news”) Festivals in Tacloban City (Leyte), both held on the month of June, but missed out on the former as my son Jandy still had classes on the day of the parade (June 27).  The Sangyaw Festival’s parade, held on June 29, the day after our arrival, was still worth the visit.  This cultural festival was first created by former First Lady Imelda Marcos in 1974 but was discontinued after 1986.  After an absence of more than 2 decades, it was revived last year by Tacloban City Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez, Imelda’s nephew. 

Image of Sto. Nino de Tacloban

This year’s parade promised to be extra special as it was the 120th celebration of the Fiesta of Sto. Niño de Tacloban, the city’s patron saint, plus Tacloban also just became the first city in the Eastern Visayas Region to be classified as a highly urbanized city.  As with previous parades, our grand view deck for watching the 3-hr., 3-km. long afternoon parade was Avenida Veteranos, packed, since early morning, with thousands of onlookers lining up to watch this unprecedented display of pomp and revelry.

Pattaradday Festival of Isabela

The festival’s street dancing competition was participated in by 17 contingents from different provinces and cities from Luzon (the Pattaradday Festival of Santiago City, Isabela; the Magayon Festival of Legazpi City, Albay; etc.), the Visayas (Sinulog Festival of Cebu City; the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City, the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental; Kawayan-Banigan Festival of Basey, Samar; etc.) and Mindanao (Bonok Bonok Marajaw Karajaw Festival of Surigao City, the Cocowayan Festival of Isabela de Basilan City, etc.)Tacloban City’s Tribu Kabatuk, last year’s grand prize winner, was on hand to defend their title.  Cash prizes, for the Open or Free Interpretation Category, plus trophies were up for grabs. 

Kawayan-Banigan Festival of Basey

Like with previous cultural competitions, these street dances depicted Filipino culture and tradition.  Each contingent performed, for 3 mins., in designated streets (Imelda St., Rizal St. and Justice Romualdez St.) before performing, for 5 mins., at the Balyu-an Amphitheater. The dance drama presentation showcased the ingenuity, talent and creativity of the over 1,000 participants as well as the cities, schools and institutions they represented. Makati City was ably represented by its Drum, Lyre and Bugle Corp contingent, dressed in their gay blue and white parade attire. 

The Bonok-Bonok Maradjaw-Karadjaw Festival

The Bonok-Bonok Maradjaw Karadjaw Festival, represented by Surigao City’s West Central Elementary School, grabbed all four minor prizes (PhP50,000 each) in the open category (best in costume, best in musicality, best in street dancing and best in choreography) plus  the PhP500,000 grand cash prize. Second place (Php300,000) went to the Kawayan-Banigan Festival and third place (PhP200,000) went to the Pataraday Festival.  

Alibangbang Festival of Dolina

In the community and school-based category (with 10 participating contingents), best in costume (PhP10,000) went to the Alibangbang Festival of Dolina and best in musicality, street dancing and choreography (PhP10,000 each) to the Eastern Visayas State University (ESU).  The eventual grand champion (winning PhP300,000) was EVSU.  Second place (PhP150,000) went to Holy Infant College and third place (PhP100,000) to Sagkahan.  

Makati Drum, Lyre and Bugle Corp

Come nighttime, these same people who lined the streets for the parade also filled up Balyuan Barbecue Park and Amphitheater and the Tacloban City Convention Center, venues of concerts and other entertainment for the weeklong socio-cultural festivities.  Business was brisk and hotels and inns were fully booked with tourists, both local and international, truly an indicator of the festival’s success and its worthiness of being returned to the tourist map.

City Tourism Operations Office: City Hall, Kanhuraw Hill, Tacloban City, Leyte.  Tel: (053) 325-8955, (053) 325-2491, (053) 523-9671 & (053) 325-6248.

Clark’s Hot Air Balloon Festival (Pampanga)

Hot air balloons being inflated …..

Normally, Valentine’s Day is a day reserved just for lovers.  At the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) in Pampanga, it is also this, plus more, as the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (PIHABF), the most colorful event of the year (held last February 12 to 15), also fell on the day of the hearts. Dubbed as the “Weekend of Everything that Flies,” it is the Philippines largest aviation sports event. Until lately, this was also included in my “Must Attend” list of festivals or events.  I was again about to miss out on this until an invitation to cover the event, from Ms. Grace Aquino, Marketing Communication Manager of the Fuego Hotel-managed Hotel Vida, came along, an offer too good to refuse.  

Hotel Vida Clark
I brought along my son Jandy and left on the morning of the day of hearts itself, arriving at the hotel by 11 AM.  On hand to welcome us was Grace and Korean hotel owner Mr. Daesik Han.  The hotel was then fully booked, not just by Valentine couples, but also by about 35 balloonists from all over the world.  They seem to be everywhere around the hotel; waiting at the lobby, cruising the hallway, dining at Salt Coffee Shop, lounging by the swimming pool and, later at night, reminiscing about the day’s events at the hotel’s new Malt Bar.  

Choreographed kite flying

We were again assigned a lavish Junior Suite and, after a short rest, we decided to check out the event’s afternoon activities.  To enter, Grace supplied us with two PhP100 one-day passes. Now in its 14th year, the Hot Air Fiesta was first held in 1994 when then DOT Secretary Mina Gabor commissioned Korean businessman and hot air balloonist, Mr. Sung Kee Paik, and Mr. John Emery, British Airways General Manager, to initiate a major balloon event in the county in the hope of uplifting the spirits of the Kapampangan people, following the devastating eruption of Mt. Pinatubo three years ago. Since then, it has been officially recorded as one of the scheduled ballooning events in the world, competing in media exposure and attention with the World Hot Air Balloon Championship (Japan) and Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (New Mexico, U.S.A.).

A paraglider in flight

Held at the 33,000-hectare Clark Civil Aviation Complex, this four-day ballooning and aero- sporting event, hosted by Clark Development Corp. (CDC), the Clark International Airport Corp., the Philippine Air Force, the Hot-Air Balloon Club of the Philippines and a host of private sponsors (including United Parcel Services, Cirrus and ABS-CBN, among others) drew more than 100,000 spectators, lining it up to be the greatest ever. More than 25 large multi-colored, hot-air balloons (topping the 19 balloons flown from 13 countries in 2008), manned by teams from Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, the Netherlands and Malaysia, colored the skies including at least seven especially shaped balloons (one had the likeness of the cartoon character Tigger).  Caltex, Yellow Cab and Kellogg’s also sponsored balloons.

Aermacchi S-211 Jet Trainer

Around the large hangar, we had a field day taking shots of the balloon inflation in the afternoon session (up to the Night Glow) and, the next day, at 6:30 in the morning where they actually lifted off. Balloon inflation is very much dependent on wind conditions with calm winds of less than 10 mph and the clouds at least 2,000 feet above the ground guaranteeing great flights.  Apart from the hot-air balloon competition, the event also featured diverse flying activities such as ultra-light aircraft formation flying, Thai, Malaysian and Filipino paragliding exhibition, AFP flag jump; and a hair-raising, dangerous and thoroughly exciting and world-class stunt flying demonstration performed by the team of Captain Meynard Halili (owner of a stunt pilot school) and Bill Wright.

F-5 Freedom Fighter

There were also light plane rally and balloon bursting competition; PHILSCA and Ateneo de Manila model rocketry demonstration; search and rescue flying exhibitions; helicopter exhibitions and fly-by; choreographed kite-flying exhibition (courtesy of the Kite Association of the Philippines); skydiving exhibition (AFP, PNP, Thai and Philippine Team); remote control aircraft and kite flying demo; flour bomb drop (Angeles City Flying Club and Land Rover); PAF mass parachute jump (from a C-130 aircraft); and swarm flights of elite aircraft such as Citation Mustang, a single-pilot operated light jet (built by Cessna Aircraft Co.) and Cirrus SR22, a single-engine, four-seat aircraft designed with a fixed landing gear. 

Balloons in flight

In addition, small private planes from Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia all flew in, participating in an air rally which has become a regular component of the festivities. In short, just about everything that flies in the skies in and about Clark Freeport. On-site ground activities included a mini-trade fair, food plaza, daily live concerts (including a Rivermaya concert which we watched), wall-climbing and other special events. Philippines Army personnel also allowed visitors to hold and pose with automatic weapons (without ammo of course).

The Philippine Air Force supplied an Italian-made Aermacchi S-211 jet trainer and a mothballed Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter, allowing spectators to pose inside the cockpits complete with flight helmets. As the waiting line was long, Jandy and I satisfied ourselves by just sitting on the F-5 airframe with two PAF personnel. Also on display was a Robinson, the world’s smallest helicopter.  Other spectaculars prepared for tourists included a photo exhibit, giant lanterns from Pampanga, Higantes from Angono, mini-trade fair, car show and exhibits, and fireworks display. Visitors were also allowed to fly their personal kites on the grounds. The food plaza area served good home-cooked Filipino culinary delights as well as McDonalds and Jollibee fare.