MANDAUEManila, July 5, 2003 By Edu Jarque (STAR) Mandaue of my early childhood was a sleepy little town, an indistinguishable hamlet by the sea, where the excellent bibingka for our afternoon meriendas came from, where the play school pupils went merrily on field trips to view the salt beds, where the dear nuns of the Colegio dela Immaculada Concepcion had their calm-down country home on extensive well-kept grounds, ideal for meditations and reflections, think-over and soul-searching. It was a world far away from the neighboring bustling city of Cebu.

Today, some Cebuanos and most visitors do not really know for certain where Cebu ends and Mandaue begins, for in the recent past, the lowly munisipio has become one of the most up-and-coming and forward-looking cities in the country, and has somehow caught up – in more ways than one – with the Queen City of the South.

But in reality, it was more like wallowing in glory under the domineering shadow of a big brother. The result – a serious identity crisis! However, the self-respecting population of Mandaue was decidedly determined to alter all that – and how!

Challenged by the progressive-thinking, unstoppable Mayor Thadeo Ouano, who was born and bred in Mandaue (whose ancestors were among the original settlers of the area) and inspired by his endearing wife Linda, a dedicated and diligent sterling team was created.

Led by the indefatigable Tonette Pańares, the full-of-ideas curator of the Southwestern University Museum and a leading historian with a never-ending litany of interesting and informative data at her fingertips, the impressive lineup of who’s who in what’s what, soon embarked on their far-reaching task of a momentous mission.

Before long, they actively interacted with the oldtimers of the community and engagingly immersed with the ancianos of the region. They read, studied and reviewed several stacks of old publications and volumes of archaic, antiquated documents particularly the source of many bewildering surprises, the opus Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas by Fr. Gaspar San Agustin.

What they discovered was genuinely awesome. And from all these authentic, God-send findings, plus I must say, the handed-down fascinating, intriguing tales from oral traditions, a unique celebration was born – the Mantawi Festival.

Named after the Mantawi vine that once grew wildly along its shores, which oddly enough no longer exists and even more strange is that nobody can share a full description for no one alive seems to have seen it ever, the festival is like no other for it does not revolve exclusively around religion. Neither does it honor tribes and animals nor even commemorate a particular specified event in time.

Mantawi Festival is a historical parade that establishes the identity of Mandaue, through song, music, dance and theater from the discovery of the cove called Mandaue on April 17, 1521 during the reign of Datu Lambuzzan, to the trading days when Legazpi’s four galleon ships were brought for repairs, to the Jesuits’ great Christianization of the inhabitants, to the myths and legends of the villages, to the agrarian life, political systems, social and cultural lifestyle, the gathering where sugar and rice lands brought about local delicacies, broom and salt-making saw the beginnings of industry, to the transformation into a city with the reclaimed area seaport and the booming industries and, lastly, to the mission and vision of Mandaue City.

Thousands of energetic schoolchildren, both from the private and public schools, all dressed in colorful costumes, from Muslim-inspired attires to Maria Claras, from cheongsams to ternos and even bell-bottom pants of the ’70s, made up the several contingents of street dancers meandering through the city streets projecting Mandaue’s rich heritage, lifestyle and industry to the cadence of the Mantawi drumbeat.

Seven huge diorama floats that likewise served as theater stages had some of the city’s prominent citizens as actors and actresses reliving important historical events.

One of the highlights of the afternoon commemorating the 33rd Charter Day celebration was the three-meter-high parada de los higantes, papier mache gigantic dolls portraying famous sons and daughters. Sotero Cabahug, Mandaue’s greatest son who has served in the three branches of government, and Eleuteria Cortes, Mandaue’s first registered nurse, whose lives and accomplishments have given dignity and pride to its hometown, are the city’s contribution to local and national greatness.

As the festival, the first of what is envisioned to be an annual event, came to a close with a 30- minute display of fireworks while the cheering spectators shouted with joy, an obviously pleased Mayor Ouano declared, "The Mantawi Festival has affirmed to rectify and claim Mandaue’s place in the history of the province of Cebu, the islands of the Visayas and the entire nation. The call of the times requires every Mandauehanon to affirm his identity in the global village, to preserve his heritage and to strengthen his cultural soul."

Mandaue City, the once-upon-a-time little nondescript town, has finally arrived.

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For more information on this year’s celebration of the festival, contact the City Tourism Commission at the Mandaue City Mayor’s Office at (032) 344-3322 or (032) 345-1547.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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