Local officials of the City of Smiles, chicken inasal and the sugar capital of the Philippines came visiting San Francisco and passed by the Philippine Consulate in the city to meet with community leaders and friends.
Led by City Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran, six other city hall council members led by councilor Bart Orola who tagged along his brother city administrator Atty. Juan Orola Jr., also spent some bonding time with relatives and kababayan at the consulate
Familiaran shared that they, the city officials, were invited by members of the Association of Bacolodnons in Long Beach, California to experience their own version of the MassKara Festival this coming July 26-29. Long Beach is Bacolod’s sister city and on October this year, the City of Smiles is celebrating its 80th chartered year.
“MassKara is our yearly activity to attract tourists and investors. It was organized by the art association of Bacolod after the Don Juan tragedy. The festival, celebrated on fourth Sunday of October of the year, is just one of the tourist attractions in Bacolod which is also the city of smiles because Bacolodnons are always smiling and sweet like any other Ilongos. We are very accommodating and peace-loving citizens,” Familiaran explained.
The word “Masskara” was said to have been coined by the late artist Ely Santiago from mass (a multitude of people), and the Spanish word cara (face), thus forming MassKara (a multitude of faces).
Maskara is also a Filipino word for “mask” (from Spanish word máscara), that features the smiles on the masks which are the main costume piece that festival participants wear in their symbol of solidarity with the smiling natives of Bacolod.
This merry festival of Bacolodnons didn’t really have happy beginnings in 1980 as it was borne out during the time of crises in Bacolod staring with the all-time low price of sugar, the by-product of sugarcane, the primary agricultural crop of Negros. The introduction of sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup in the United States largely made this crisis possible.
Also on April 22 of that same year, the tragedy of the collision of inter-island vessel MV Don Juan that carried many Negrenses, including those belonging to prominent families in Bacolod City, with the tanker M/V Tacloban City happened. The Don Juan sank in Tablas Strait off Mindoro while en route from Manila to Bacolod and an estimated 750 lives were lost in the tragedy.
Far from dwelling on the tragedy local government officials led by the late Mayor Jose “Digoy” Montalvo came up with the idea of having a festival of smiles and appropriated a seed fund that enjoined the city’s artistic community, civic and business groups to get together to turn things around and instead take it as a good opportunity to pull the residents out of the pervasive gloomy atmosphere brought by the Don Juan tragedy and on City’s Charter Day celebration on October 19, 1980, the festival was launched.
The festival proved to all that Bacolodnons and Negrenses were resilient still with smiles on their faces and will be triumphant in the end that endured in the next decades and became one of the major annual tourism attractions of the Philippines.
The MassKara Festival also was a catalyst for far-reaching growth and development of the city’s tourism, hospitality, culinary, crafts and souvenirs and services sectors.
“Now, Bacolod City is one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines. We are promoting our city as one of the best retirement destinations for Fil-Ams. We are attracting Fil-Ams who are about to retire to go to Bacolod and stay there. We have the best food and our place is very peaceful. Real property prices are very affordable too,” Familiaran claims. “Bacolod is still dependent on sugar. The sugar industry is still growing and the business is still good. But despite the industrialization, we are still very dependent on sugar. The conversion of sugar lands to housing units like in subdivisions due partly to industrialization would still take a long time.”
Industrialization may become eventually a threat to the sugar industry but Familiaran believes that it will only happen in about more than twenty years more.
“Bacolod is 70 to 80% industrialized. But the other towns, municipalities and cities around Bacolod are still into sugar. Bacolod being the capital city of the province of Negros Occidental is also the anchor city in the sugar industry,” Familiaran maintains.
Bacolod City administrator and officer-in-charge of tourism Atty Juan Orola Jr. echoed Familiaran in saying that the Bacolod officials went to San Francisco “to promote trade, tourism, and investment for Bacolod City.”
“We will be here from July 25 to August 8 to promote the following: agri-tourism, farm-tourism adventure-tourism, culinary-tourism,” continued AttyOrola. “On November 26-29 there will be the Meetings Incentives Conventions and Exhibitions- MICE Congress in Bacolod City where 60% of sugar is still produced. The sugar industry is still there and it complements the manpower development and continuing progress of Bacolod.
Bacolod City Vice-Mayor El Cid Familiaran is with six city councilors and city administrator in visiting the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco.
Bacolod City administrator Atty. Juan Orola Jr. (left) and brother City Councilor Bart Orola (right) will also witness the MassKara festival in Long Beach, California.