Maguindanao gears for Sagayan Festival; red alert status up for a week

BULUAN, Maguindanao  (MindaNews/06 February) — A tourism spectacle conceptualized to help bring about peace and progress in a province notorious for its chaotic past, will dazzle viewers on February 10 to 14, with security forces already on red alert starting February 7 to ensure the safety of merrymakers.

Flanked by military and police officials, Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu told the press conference announcing the launch of the Sagayan Festival that he hopes “all bad things about the province would be buried to oblivion.”

“We want to showcase the hidden tradition and joys in Maguindanao,” he said, lamenting that his province has been known more for violence than anything else.

It maybe recalled that 58 people were killed, including 32 media workers on November 23, 2009 in the massacre allegedly perpetrated by some members of Ampatuan clan, then the most influential and powerful family in the impoverished province.

The province is also known for armed skirmishes resulting from decades of on-and-off war between government forces and Moro rebels.

Mangudadatu hopes the Sagayan Festival this will foster unity among the people in their quest for lasting peace in the area, a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Sagayan is a dance of nobility, gallantry and honor. According to a project brief, it is shared by both the Maguindanao and Maranao tribes and depicts fierce warriors carrying a shield called “klung” elaborately painted with curlicues, rounds, twirls and adorned with mirrors which are attached to shell noisemakers. In their other hand, they carry a double-bladed sword of metal or wood.

The festival’s theme is “Blending of Rich Culture and Traditions among Maguindanaoans as a Road to Peace.”

The governor said they are inviting representatives of the MILF to the Sagayan Festival so it would “feel the importance of unity in the quest for peace.”

The provincial government also expects to attract domestic and foreign investments to Maguindanao through the festival, he said.

Racquel Magalona, Sagayan Festival chair, said there are two kinds of Sagayan, the dalkat and delna.

The province is celebrating Sagayan Dalkat, which is a native exhibition performed in festive occasions through dances and sounds, she said, noting that delna, a ritual healing of a sick person, “is against Islam.”

She said that apart from native dance exhibitions, there will be a kanduli (grand thanksgiving), trade fairs, and a carabao race, among others.

Mangudadatu said they want to institutionalize the Sagayan Festival so that it will be held annually even if he is no longer in office.

When he was still the mayor of Buluan, Mangudadatu recalled they mounted the Tagunggo Festival every November.  Tagunggo is a musical instrument that when played, “could attract bad spirits.”

“Genalyn, my wife, headed this but it was no longer staged after she died,” the governor said. Genalyn was among the victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre.

As a tribute to Genalyn, Mangudadatu said the organizers agreed to end the Sagayan Festival on February 14, her birthday, also Valentine’s Day.

Police and military officials have set up Task Group Sagayan to oversee security arrangements.

“We will place the entire province in red alert status starting tomorrow (Tuesday),” said Supt. Marcelo Pintac, the provincial police director.

Rising the status to red alert will come even as Maguindanao is still under a state of emergency.

On Thursday, we will start observing a 24-hour security check until the end of the festival, in which bomb experts will be on standby in case there are bomb threats, Pintac said.

He said they would also mount a “human intelligence” operation involving residents of Buluan and neighboring towns to stop  possible saboteurs during the festivities.

Pinlac said the number of bodyguards of politicians and other “very important persons” will be regulated as agreed with our military counterparts.

Only two bodyguards with short firearms will be allowed inside covered facilities for each VIP during the festival, he said.

Col. Edmundo Pangilinan, 601st Infantry Brigade commander, said the AFP is fully supporting the festival “as a way to bring peace in the troubled province.”

“It will help promote Maguindanao as a peaceful and nice place to live in,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)