I have always believed that Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival is confused. And that same confusion was brought to the First Tan-ok Festival of Festivals held last night, Nov. 12.
The result was sad but not puzzling. Of 23 local government units, Laoag did not figure in the Top 10, based on the eminent judges’ scorecards. I’m sure the overflowing audience at the Ferdinand E. Marcos Stadium felt the same.
Some observers—including my friend and former colleague at the university, Randy Leaño, who is now based in Hawaii—believe that Laoag lost because it did not get a good choreographer. As the city’s big names in culture and the arts opted to train contingents of other municipalities, Laoagueño-trained contingents won while Laoag wallowed at the bottom.
I agree that choreographers are a vital element in performances, and more so in competitions. However it is my humble opinion that Laoag lost because of something more basic: the story it shared was, well, confused.
Listening to the dubbed introduction before the performance, I had no idea at first that it was the Pamulinawen Festival being referred to, and when it was made explicit that it was Laoag’s turn, I was in a state of disbelief. It spoke of Panagpanday (Blacksmithing). Maybe there are some blacksmiths in Laoag, but I didn’t know (and even Google doesn’t) that Laoag is known for that industry in the same manner San Nicolas is known for their pottery or Piddig for wine making.
And pray tell, what is the connection between the popular Ilocano love song Pamulinawen and blacksmiths? That Panagpanday is alien to the Laoagueños’ psyche was apparent in the way the dancers performed. It became even more obvious with the audience’s silence.
Take, for example, first-placer Batac, which presented the Empanada Festival. Their performers showed deep joy and pride in their every move. The crowd was chanting, “Empanada! Empanada!” The stage, lighted with orange, looked like one big Empanada indeed. I and some of my media colleagues actually felt hungry after watching the performance. And not just for food. Hungry for that kind of intensity. Hungry for that kind of local pride. Truly, the delicacy is something we own, something we should be festive about.
When the dubbed intro proclaimed, “Siwawer Power!,” there was mad excitement in the crowd, and I am sure not just among Vintar folks and bird lovers like me, because it is something we own. Same was true with the other winners in Badoc’s La Virgen Milagrosa and in Paoay’s Guling-guling. My Sociology 1 students know that there is no culture without a group in the same manner that there can be no culture without a group. Certainly, in Laoag’s presentation last Saturday, there was an appalling disconnect.
I agree that some municipalities did not make it due to poor production value (lack of appropriate props and costumes) and maybe less-than-excellent choreography, but no contingent dismayed the audience more than Laoag City, with its vast human and financial resources, did. (Kids, please don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault that your elders did not think better. I know you did your best. I wanted to shout “Panday! Panday!” but none of you looked like Fernando Poe.)
So what happened to Laoag? What did we miss? What could we have portrayed instead? What exactly do we rightfully own?
Why not the Belltower? Why not the La Paz Sand Dunes? Or why not the Laoag Gymnastics Group which has successfully etched the city’s name in the national pop culture consciousness? (Christian Espiritu, the Showtime champions’ fabulous choreographer, worked for Badoc which landed in Tan-ok’s Top Three.) And why not sunshine? Or why not just about the song itself?
I was born in Laoag and, if I could have my way, would like to die (I hope not too soon) in Laoag. I love my city over and above any other place on earth. But I dislike the Pamulinawen because it is a festival we launched not because we wished to highlight something meaningful to us. It was, dear karikna, an event city officials thoughtlessly invented simply because they wanted to hold a festival, envious, I suspect, of other cities and provinces which hold legitimate fests.
Roughly two months from now, Laoag will again be holding the Pamulinawen Festival. Part of me wishes, though I know it’s not possible, that we hold it off and in the meantime reflect on what it really means to us, if any at all. The second option, of course, is for all of us in Sunshine City to become blacksmiths asap.
Because Laoag is the capital city, the Pamulinawen was envisioned to be THE Festival of Festivals here in Ilocos, but it had microscopic success. Tan-ok just did what Pamulinawen failed to do all these years: unite us Ilocanos while showcasing the best (and true) about us.
Now that we have the highly acclaimed Tan-ok, what do we need the Pamulinawen Festival for except to remind us that pretense and confusion neither win the experts’ nod nor the people’s affection?