In her welcome remarks at the phenomenally successful Tan-ok ni Iocano Festival of Festivals, Nov. 17 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City, Governor Imee Marcos noted cheerfully that the delegations were well supported by their respective ‘stage mayors’, using the term in the same context as ‘stage mothers.’ Two mayors, however, went several steps further and took the stage, the center stage no less, and literally.
On a night of splendid dancing, heart-stopping stunts, and an overflow of Ilokano Talent, Honorable Edito Balintona, mayor of Sarrat, was no doubt the lousiest performer. Nearing the climax of his town’s Binakol Festival presentation, Balintona came out seated on top of a huge wooden structure, not unlike a parade float, together with a lady who, I would later learn, is his tourism officer, Dona Siazon. The mayor, who seemed at a loss, was seen being given instructions by Siazon as the performance went on, no doubt an insult to the efforts of dancers who attended painstaking practices for long hours so that they can perfect their act. But there was one thing the mayor did so well… wave at the crowd, a sea of humanity so huge it could have been impossible for him to resist the temptation of appearing on stage …to wave.
“What is their mayor doing there?” asked some spectators who also made comments that are too disrespectful to see print. Judges, sources say, gave Sarrat’s performance one of the lowest scores.
Honorable Salvacion “Vacie” Cimatu, mayor of the windmills town of Bangui, can surely dance. And I know she can sing as well. It was the second time she top-billed her town’s number. She performed, too, in last year’s inaugural edition of Tan-ok.
True, there are no rules that say mayors cannot join the presentations. But virtuous human beings do things not simply because they can. Surely, we would not want future editions of Tan-ok being dominated by more politicians, both those who can dance like Cimatu and those who can wave like Balintona. Should they insist on dancing, however, Provincial Tourism Officer Ianree Raquel could consider putting all mayors together in a production number. It would not only satisfy some mayors’ itch to hit the stage, it would also be a powerful show of solidarity.
All year round, our mayors dominate the stage and we listen to their long and egoistic speeches. Our towns and cities are peppered with huge streamers bearing their photoshopped faces. I have no idea how Mayors Cimatu and Balintona are performing off stage, they could even be doing really great in their jobs as chief executives. But that night, being a good mayor really meant doing what 21 other mayors chose to do: to remain seated and proudly applaud the vast talents of their constituents. Surely, there are many other beautiful gents and ladies from every town in Ilocos Norte who can sway as gracefully as, if not more gracefully than, their mayors. Balintona may have had good intentions; maybe they wanted to lend “star power” to their respective teams, if indeed they looked at themselves as stars. But they are missing the point of this festival of the masses.
Last Saturday night was spectacular because of the dazzling lights, the larger-than-life props, and the refreshing music, but more than all these, it was a meaningful event because it showed what world-class talents young Ilocanos are. I had goosebumps listening to the Samiweng singers, Fatima, and my former student Joko Valbuena sing. For a while, I pinched myself to be sure I was still on earth, and not in heaven in the company of angels. I laughed heartily while watching cute kids from Banna acting as huge, red ants wiggling their behinds. I giggled while the teens of Laoag tackled the universal theme of courtship, love, and of happy endings. There are many more scenes that keep playing in my head which will continue to make me smile, and keep me proud of my people in the next many days.
…But I wonder how much more young artists of Bangui and Sarrat could have shined if only their respective mayors did not bask in the limelight.