If there is one thing Filipinos are good at, it is finding a variety of seemingly legitimate reasons for hosting an impromptu celebration at the drop of a hat. It is not just because they are a fun-loving and extremely sociable people with a hyper-developed sense of hospitality, they also believe as a nation that life is too short and hard enough and, therefore, would simply be intolerable without them taking the time out, once in a while, to just hang loose, feast on good food, drink a little and simply have a bit of fun with family and friends.
That is why fiestas in the Philippines are so wonderfully revealing of facets of the Filipino character. They speak most eloquently about the fatalistic optimism with which the average Filipino views life and living in this world and the great value he places on his relationship with his family, friends and the body of people he interacts with on a daily basis that comprises his immediate community.
Last January 15, as the civic parade marking the town's annual Araw Ng Lianga (Lianga Day) celebration snaked its way through Lianga's main streets, I sat on the sidelines and took the time to ponder on the more recent and contemporary origins of this festival.
As far as I can remember, Lianga always celebrated its annual town fiesta in honor of its patron saint, the Child Jesus or the Sto. Niño, on the 15th of August. This is contrary to the traditional schedule for festivals dedicated to the Sto. Niño in other parts of the country which, by Catholic tradition, usually fall in the middle of January like the world-famous Sinulog Festival in Cebu.
The reason for this bit of contrariness is the fact that January has always been a month prone to prolonged spells of wet and stormy weather in this part of Mindanao. Lianga residents could not, therefore, in good conscience, ask their visitors to risk life and limb while traveling to and from Lianga in order to partake of their noted hospitality during a time of the year noted for inclement local weather.
In the period prior to the middle of the 1960's when the roads were largely non-existent, moving from point to point in this part of the country was largely by sea and through small motorized boats and bancas. Traveling was arduous and difficult during those days so, as a consequence, the middle of August, when the local weather was expected to be generally mild and the coastal seas calm, was chosen for the time of the celebration of the annual fiesta.
When the town's previous political leadership revived the idea of an Araw Ng Lianga festival some years ago as a sort of combination socio-civic and religious festival, it was with the avowed intention not only to do honor to the Sto. Niño together with the rest of the country but also to promote Lianga's rich cultural and historical heritage. The idea was to gain further impetus when many of the town's residents began the new festival as a new vehicle for promoting the town as a viable tourism destination for both local and foreign visitors.
The only hitch was the sudden realization that the town now had, in fact, already two de facto town fiestas instead of one. Many residents began to complain about the redundancy and additional expense of hosting another fiesta celebration especially after the extravagance expected of them during the Christmas and New Year festivities. In these times of shrinking incomes and a threatened local economy, most of them are not only extremely wary of spending money unecessarily but, in most cases, do not have the money to spend unecessarily even if they would like to do so.
But proponents of the Araw Ng Lianga celebration to this day continue to argued that the January festivities are more exclusively a religious activity than a socio-civic event while the town fiesta in August was the more elaborate festival that shaould give more emphasis and recognition to the cultural and historical heritage of the town. They also point to the tourism potential of having essntially two fiestas instead o one.
I personally feel that the distinction is flawed and confused. In essence, both festivities are essentially the same and that the town can do better with one than waste valuable resources on both. I would rather go for one well planned, well executed annual fiesta than two which are half-baked, meanly funded and hastily organized.
But the fiesta mentality remains strong here and local folks are, for now, quite willing to go along with the form if not the full substance of the Araw Ng Lianga celebration. It is after all, in their view, for a good cause and for the glory of their patron saint, the latter justification something most Filipinos will certainly sacrifice a lot for.
So they have to have an elaborate civic parade, a formal program at the municipal gymnasium, stirring speeches from their local officials and cultural presentations from students and school children. They entertain and feed guests the best way they can, perhaps not in a manner as grand or extravagant as they would like to in the past but they try to put up a good show for all anyway.
A good show indeed but I am afraid, unless something more meaningful and real comes out or evolves out of this psuedo-fiesta, that is only what it can ever hope to be in the future.