KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/ 14 August) — How did a small city in Mindanao get to be host to an event that brings in over 200 performers from nine different countries?
A simple answer can be drawn from an existing network between an international group that covers cultural preservation and the city mayor’s passion for the tribes in his own land.
The more complicated answer, however, gives us a better story.
The Philippines has long been an associate member of the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF) with Koronadal City mayor Peter Miguel as the focal head of the country.
With only less than a year of preparations, Koronadal made the International Folklore Festival of CIOFF possible in the form of Pyesta Kolon Datal. The nine-day festival, with shows throughout the SOCCSKSARGEN region, brought to the country performers and groups from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Russia, Slovenia, Chinese Taipei, and Poland (as well as performers from other cities in the Philippines).
Cultural exchanges, through tours and workshops, were also held in the municipalities of Surallah, Isulan, San Jose, Tampakan, Norala, Tantangan, Tboli, Santo Nino, Tupi and Banga in South Cotabato; the road shows also covered Alabel in Sarangani, General Santos, and Tacurong.
But other than the festivities, the core of the festival is to highlight and preserve the “intangible cultural heritage” of the Blaan—an IP group in the region which the Koronadal mayor worries is threatened by modern day acculturation.
The Blaans are believed to be the first dwellers of Koronadal. Today, the group thrives with other settlers like the Hiligaynon, Cebuano, and Ilocano; Muslims, Christians and Lumads alike also thrive in the city.
With only about 22 million as their primary budget (including pooled contributions from private partners), Koronadal fired on all cylinders as the festival opened last Monday, starting with a street parade in the main streets of the city.
Locals and local tourists were enthralled at the performances that they witnessed, which was a far cry from any usual Philippine festival.
Koronadal’s hosting was given a go with the help of a fellow Mindanawon who sat as a council member of CIOFF and a VP of CIOFF in Canada, overseeing the North American Sector: Leticia Bulotano-Wheeler.
Wheeler also presides as the head of the committee that sends delegates abroad.
Fueled by the creativity of Koronadal’s snobbish artistic director for its festivals, Edwin Duero, the International Folklore Festival became a reality.
The festival, which also hoped to “destigmatize” the general stereotype that Mindanao is unsafe, is the first of its kind in the country.
But was Koronadal prepared?
The cheap outdoor stagecraft mounted in the South Cotabato Sports Complex for the festival’s big opening ceremony could have easily been dampened by extreme weather conditions; the sluggish flow of the program, hosted by personalities who probably needed extra hours of public speaking lessons, caused many of the international delegates to stand in queue for more than an hour, waiting for their turn to perform.
The city’s growing physical structures and tourism-accredited establishments can only go as far; the common transportation available are the small motorbike-powered trikes.
The city is peaceful, according to city information officer Carol Mariano. “The international delegates even walked around by themselves early evenings.” Security was also strengthened through augmented manpower of about 500 from the PNP’s regional office.
It is perhaps the hospitality of the people that also made the event go well.
More alike than different
Mindanao is unlike anything that the outsiders have imagined.
“I had no idea what it’s like,” said 22 year-old Emmanuel Rodriguez Fernandez, a Mexican folk dancer who came to Koronadal for the festival. “I don’t hear about it anywhere.”
He said that he had a great time and a unique experience visiting the country and Mindanao for the first time. “I’m grateful for the hospitality of the locals,” he added. “This is a beautiful country but I discover things beyond that—like the people.”
“We can never imagine what Mindanao is like,” added Penelope Menchaca, 48, one of the lead dancers of the same Mexican group. “It’s not in the movies.”
Menchaca said that she is very excited and emotional to be here: to perform and to see the country and to meet its people.
Throughout the festival, Menchaca and her group, Ballet Folclórico del Estado de México, performed a variety of dances that showcased a glimpse of each of her country’s state’s culture and story. “There is no one type of dance or costume,” she said, adding that they intended to bring a bit of everything—from Aztec rituals to pieces from Veracruz, and dances from Jalisco, Guerrero and Mexico City.
They opened all their senses to receive as much culture, in exchange. This is what she came to realize:
“This has all been an eye opening experience,” she said. “We are all so distant from one another, yet there are many things that we share in common with the Filipinos—from food to dance movements.”
During her stay, Menchaca said that she’s been served Filipino pochero dish and some sticky rice delicacies that remind her of home. Even the Filipino dances showed similarities to theirs (minus the tap dance percussions).
Having been a dancer in the group since she was two years old, Menchaca said that dance as a medium has long proven itself to be a wonderful tool to bring people together.
“It can unite people and bring peace,” she said. “When we dance, we set aside our differences.”
Menchaca, aside from her duties as a dancer in Mexico, regularly ferries to Los Angeles to work as a TV host for her dating game show 12 Corazones.
Department of Tourism (DOT) region 12 director Nelly Nita Dillera said that the department is eyeing to increase it tourist arrivals from 2.96 million in 2015 to 3.4 million in 2016, also increasing its the accredited tourism establishments from 80 to 92 in the same years.
Dillera further said that the event can help them achieve an even higher increase in tourism arrivals for the next months; the department said that they experienced a 5% increase in arrivals during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same time in 2014.
Their short-term target for 2015 is to have a 20-25% increase in arrivals that can top the 2.58 million (32,000 of this are foreign arrivals) that they had in 2014.
Dillera said that there are currently 15 DOT-accredited small hotels and inns; only five are star rated accommodations. The city estimates that there are over 800 beds available for quality accommodations.
Americans (despite the travel ban imposed by their government) and Koreans remain to be among the nationalities who frequent the region.
She said that post the festival, DOT hopes to be able to increase tourism accredited establishments.
Through the event, Dillera said that the government and its partners can have it as a venue to showcase local culture and find opportunities and means to support the Blaan.
The department’s tourism plan is to craft special tour packages that are intensive on Blaan life learning: from livelihood excursions to eco-tour adventures. They are also working closely with the NCCA for correct documentations.
“The challenges that we see at the moment is to reeducate the community themselves of the culture that they’re slowly forgetting,” she said. (Jesse Pizarro Boga/MindaNews)