Contact Us
Century International Hotels



Fiesta express in Bicol
Source: Inquirer
Author: James P. Ong
Date: 2002-04-21
WHEN it comes to fiestas, Filipinos are world-famous. Aklanons have seven days of Ati-Atihan, and so do Cebuanos with their Sinulog. And in May, Albay Province will try to make its mark in the global culture map with a month-long festival called Magayon, which translates to "beautiful" in English.

And when they say month-long, they mean it. Over 40 activities have been crammed into the festival calendar, clustered into four areas: arts and culture; travel and tourism; sports, games and recreation; and special events.

Now if that sounds too hedonistic, it may be because while the Ati-Atihan and Sinulog are religious celebrations honoring the Santo Ni¤o, the Magayon Festival is a tribute to a figure from the country's pre-Christianity era-Daragang Magayon, Albay's mythical maiden whose tragic love story is believed to have formed Mayon Volcano.

The festival, which has been held since 1999, is a brainchild of Albay Gov. Al Francis C. Bichara. It relives the province's historical and cultural heritage through songs, dances, visual arts, literature and traditional crafts.

"There is something for everyone here," he says. "It's an excellent venue to experience the various surprises the province has to offer. At first, people were doubting if we could sustain a month-long festival. In our case, this is the only time in the year that we have a full summer and the flights are regular."

The effort goes well with the current Department of Tourism drive to encourage inter-domestic tourism. And if all goes well, it might even lead to a boost in foreign tourism. According to Bichara, the first three Magayons were well-attended not just by Filipinos but also by foreigners.

"It has to start from somewhere," he says. "Even Boracay started with local tourists. What happens is the residents bring their foreign friends to see the place. Then they enjoy what they see and tell their other friends. This year, we're counting on even more people to attend-both local and international tourists."

'Lively' arts scene

Albay is one of six provinces in the Bicol Region. The rest are Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. Legazpi City, the capital of Albay, is centrally located in the region and is accessible from Manila in less than a hour by plane or around 12 hours by bus.

There are several tourist destinations in Albay alone, the most popular of which is the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano, regarded by not a few as "the eight wonder of the world."

This year, the arts play a pivotal role in the Magayon Festival. The artist Gus Albor, chair of the Legazpi-based Center for Bicol Artists' Guild Foundation (Cebica), is working closely with festival organizers for several activities, including a mural making cum street party on May 10 in the newly built Pe¤aranda Park, where local artists will be participating.

Cebica was organized in December last year and has more than 20 members, some of whom were part of the original Bicol Artists' Guild, which was formed in 1984 with only eight members.

Manila-based Albor has lately been going back to his hometown twice a month, enduring the nine-hour drive from his home in Para¤aque, leaving as early as 5 a.m. to avoid the traffic. It's partly for his commitment to Cebica and also because he is busy building a modest studio right by the sea, facing the Pacific Ocean.

He says the shoreline view inspires him as an artist, although he is not about to abandon his abstracts for landscapes.

Cebica is open not just to painters but also to sculptors and other visual artists. "They are free to develop their own style. And we also welcome other artists like poets and musicians." Albor describes the arts and culture scene in Bicol as "lively and positive," but notes that the only university course related to fine arts is being offered by Aquinas University. It is geared toward graphics design and advertising.

That is why the group is actively seeking grants to help it promote arts and culture in the province. Last year, it earned P25,000 from a fund-raising exhibition to help casualties of the Mayon Volcano eruption in July last year.

One of Cebica's current projects is to convince municipal authorities to allow them to build a headquarters in the historic Cagsawa Ruins, where they have already identified an area they'd like to occupy.

In 1814, Mayon Volcano erupted and sent lava flows cascading down its sides. The townspeople of Cagsawa fled to the church where they perished when it was engulfed in the fiery flows. Today, only the church tower remains as a memorial.

Albor says there are now squatters in the area and vendors selling souvenir items to tourists. "If they give it to us, we can manage it better because we are more aware of its cultural importance and care about its preservation," he reasons.

This early, Cebica is planning an art project with an environmental theme for March of next year. They will clean one of Albay's shorelines by getting kids who live nearby to clear out the garbage. "Then they will pile it on the sand and we'll turn into an installation art. Afterward, we'll dispose of the garbage properly," he says.

They are also planning an outdoor sculpture exhibition, also near a shore, using big boulders from the solidified Mayon Volcano lava flow.

The arts scene in Albay comes alive at night when artists hang out at Clique, a fairly new gallery, bar and restaurant run by Beth Estevez, a fellow artist. Prior to this they met for drinks at Zentro, owned by artist Jim Orense. But, like the Penguin Caf‚ it was likened to, it recently closed, after five years of operation.

Estevez is also the president of the Albay Tourism Council, a nongovernment organization involved in producing souvenirs with an art-bent to be sold during the Magayon Festival. This includes coloring books, hand puppets and feature animations formatted in VCD and VHS that feature the Kalaw or Hornbill, which is part of the provincial seal of Albay. The council hopes to raise P300,000 from these souvenirs, which will also be used to teach tourists environmental awareness.

Governor Bichara is only too excited about the Magayon Festival, one of his last major projects as he serves his final term in office. He says one of his goals is "to detach the festival from any political leadership," but hopes whoever his successor will be in 2004 will support the project which, according to him, initially cost him some P4-million in 1999. With corporate partners now actively helping, expenses have been trimmed down to more than a third.

Of course, a visit to Magayon Festival shouldn't be just about the arts and culture scene. You've never been to Bicol without witnessing for yourself the local appetite for chili peppers. On May 26 at Pe¤aranda Park, a "Sili-eating Contest" will be held. It would be fun to watch who could beat the current title holder, Roberto Gonzales of Camalig, Albay, whose record is 300 hot chili peppers.


Indonesia Thailand USA Europe Canada Hong Kong Philippines