Near the municipal park, a man is sawing lengths of wooden sticks and hammering them into supports for the canvas awning of his temporary market stall. Nearby, another vendor is laying out his merchandise (kitchenware and household goods) on low tables while his companions unloaded sacks and bundles of more display goods from a small truck.
In the park itself, the concrete benches, iron railings and community stage all look spiffy and sport brand new coats of paint. Even Jose Rizal on his pedestal had a makeover although upon closer examination, I get the notion that he may be a bit nonplussed and uncomfortable to see his coat painted the same shade of brown as the concrete support for the benches around and below him. Poor guy. Obviously someone at the municipal hall was, as usual, trying to cut paint costs at his expense.
On the national highway just beyond the park, a group of municipal employees atop a ladder propped on a truck is fixing a broken streetlight while farther up the road, other workers complete their work on one of the two traditional decorative arches that greet visitors as they enter the town. The other arch on the other side of town remains incomplete, its two unconnected pillars looking forlorn and abandoned on the sides of the road.
All over town, the sights and sounds of a community gearing up for the annual town fiesta is obvious yet if one asks the ordinary guy on the street or the housewives in their homes, things may not be as they seem to be. In many ways, this year's fiesta will be different from those in the past.
There is little of the frenzied, almost feverish pace and manic excitement characterizing the week or so preceding past fiesta celebrations. Nowadays one readily notices a sense of underlying restraint, an atmosphere of wariness, as if everyone is just going through the motions yet not really sure if the whole thing is really going to be worth all the effort.
Hard times have come to Lianga and for the first time because of the economic crunch, people are shying away from the unrestrained, lavish spending of the past and looking for ways to curb unnecessary spending and save money - a difficult task for a people so used to risking all and even willing to contemplate imminent penury and debt just to wow guests and visitors with an ostentatious display of abundant food, drinks and entertainment.
The mad fiesta spirit, part bacchanalia and part religious frenzy, has been largely tamed and forcibly muzzled by the harsh reality of uncertain economic times.
In a way, the Sto. Niño or the Child Jesus who happens to be Lianga's patron saint would probably approve of some degree of fiscal restraint and wise spending on the part of a people celebrating a festival in its honor. After all, frugality is a fundamental Christian virtue supposedly to be emulated by all of the faithful.
But it is also true that fiestas in the Filipino sense are precisely what they are - glorious, mesmerizing and intoxicating, because they are in direct contravention of the spirit of frugality and fiscal common sense. In a fiesta, one is supposed to pull out all the stops, to celebrate with gusto and no hesitation, no matter the cost or inconvenience. What matters is the celebration and to hell with the expense. Let tomorrow figure itself out.
Well, things have changed and the people in Lianga, by force of circumstance, will have to find new ways to celebrate their town fiesta on August 15 and still have fun despite the lean and mean times. If they can do that and still get through the festivities with their wallets and bank accounts relatively intact then well and good.
More leaner years may be ahead and a little practice goes a long long way.