No merrymaking events for Kalilangan Festival due to virus fears

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 February) – City Mayor Ronnel Rivera on Friday confirmed the cancelation of merrymaking events of the annual Kalilangan Festival due to fears caused by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The cancelation dismayed trade exhibitors and a carnival ride operator who lamented it would mean huge losses on their part.

Kalilangan Festival is a yearly event that celebrates the coming of settlers to this place, formerly called Dadiangas, some eight decades ago.

The celebration this year was set for Feb. 14-27, a public holiday supposedly to commemorate the “81st Foundation Anniversary” of the city. General Santos, however, was created as a city from the old Dadiangas only in 1968.

“Of course, we will still celebrate Kalilangan. But in another way,” Rivera told reporters at City Hall.

City councilor Shandee Pestano, who is also festival director, told MindaNews that all Kalilangan events slated at the Oval Freedom Park have been canceled.

An earlier joint statement by the Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Tourism that said “it is safe to organize and attend public gatherings, meetings and festivals as long as all precautionary measures identified by the DOH are observed,” gave rise to speculations that the festivities would go on.

“As a precaution, no public gathering shall be held. There will, however, be a wreath-laying at the monument of General (Paulino) Santos,” Rivera said.

Santos led the creation of settlements in this part of Mindanao back in the 30s which led to the creation of communities which later comprised the old Cotabato province.

The cancelation of the events has frustrated and brought uncertainties to agro-trade exhibitors and carnival rides workers who said they have incurred expenses and may not be able to recover it.

John Ybanez, administrator of the JohnMer Carnival Rides, said festival organizers gave them a refund of the 800-thousand pesos rent they paid for a month on a space they were supposed to occupy at the park from February 8 to March 8.

But it is impossible to regain the huge expense they incurred in coming to the city, he said.

He said he cannot give exact figures which may amount to several thousand covering fuel, transportation, food, salaries and other administrative costs.

Ybanez said bringing the rides and their equipment to General Santos incurred so much expenses.

Some of them came from as far as Cebu, he said while explaining the nomadic nature of their business.

He noted that income from the remaining three rides they have – Ferris wheel, dragon boat swing and octopus ride – could hardly make a breakeven.

Running the three rides needs 3,000 pesos worth of diesel fuel for a two-day operation. Since they arrived in Gensan, the rides have only made about 600 pesos a day at most.

“Where will the carnival owner get the money to pay us?” he lamented.

And since they cannot continue to be at the park, he said it is still uncertain where they will go because most other festivals have been canceled too due to the Covid-19.

Agro-exhibitors also lamented the situation as they have to haul back to their farms the plants and other products they have brought to sell during the festival.

A farmer from Sultan Kudarat who asked not to be named said they have no one to blame for what happened, but added that city officials should also have considered the announcement from the DOH and DILG that it is safe to go on with festivals.

Pestano, on the other hand, said they cannot do otherwise but to go on with the cancelation because “we have stopped the preparations, like fund sourcing and the usual bidding processes and there is so little time left for us to push through with the festival.”

The official said they will prepare for a much bigger and grandiose Kalilangan celebration next year. (Rommel Rebollido/MindaNews)