THE JOY OF BACOLOD'S INDOMITABLE SPIRIT

BACOLOD CITY, OCTOBER 8, 2003  (MALAYA) By SANDRA DIEZ  - TRUE to its objective of hail ing the Negrense's resil iency and high spirits despite times of crisis, the MassKara Festival forges on, promising an even bigger event than the last when it formally opens on Saturday, October 11.

Leading the annual festivities is Bacolod City's first woman Mayor, the Honorable Joy S. Valdez, who was in Manila last Saturday and Sunday to grace and take part in the Department of Tourism's WOW Philippines regional showcase which over the weekend featured, "The Best of Region VI." (Region VI comprises Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo and Negros Occidental)


An invitation

Mayor Valdez took advantage of the opportunity to flaunt her city's famous festival by bringing with her a contingent of dancers who performed in full MassKara regalia before the crowd that gathered at the San Ignacio Ruins in Intramuros. While serving as a cordial invitation for visitors to come to Bacolod, the highly-energized streetdance program also offered a glimpse into the glitter and revelry that culminates the actual MassKara festival.

"Now on its 24th year, the MassKara has become so popular that it has reached international proportions," said Mayor Valdez. "Filipino communities in Canada, Chicago and Los Angeles, for instance, hold their own versions of the MassKara complete with pageants and programs. Often, they time it on their Thanksgiving holiday which also happens to fall in October."

But of course, nothing beats traveling to the city of Bacolod and experiencing first-hand the colorful and exuberant spirit of its week-long festival and enjoying the sights, sounds, cuisine and warmth and hospitality of its people.

Origin

Originally conceptualized by veteran cartoonist Ely Santiago, the MassKara was born in the wake of tragedies that cast the province of Negros Occidental in a bad light: the crash of the sugar economy; the MV Don Juan sea tragedy that took the lives of many Negrense passengers; worsening peace and order problems; and photos of starving Negros children splashed in magazines and newspapers all over the world - overwhelming events that affected not only the province but the whole country, as well.

It was on the verge of hopelessness that the indomitable spirit, especially of the Bacolodnons, emerged. The smiling mask - a wide grin carved into papier maché masks - was adopted as a symbol to reflect the people's cheerful spirit in the face of difficulties. The term MassKara was later coined, combining the words "mass" which means a multitude of people, and "kara" derived from Spanish word "cara" which means face. Developed around the central theme of the mask is a Mardi gras-style celebration highlighted by a street parade of masked dancers in fabulous costumes, swaying and dancing rambunctiously to the pulsating beat of Latin music.

Since its inception in 1980, the MassKara has grown tremendously with all sectors of the community spearheading many of the activities. Participation is high such that this year, the Masskara already soft-opened as early as October 1 with a garden show and activities for senior citizens.

Calendar

Scheduled throughout the nine-day calendar are cultural programs, sports competitions, carnivals, trade exhibits, concerts, beer fest and street parties, fashion shows, medical missions, and a beauty pageant.

"The MassKara Village is a new feature of this year's festival," Mayor Valdez said. "It aims to entice budding artists, as well as professionals, to create life-sized masks and enter them in the mask-making competition which will be held on October 13. It was such a hit last year that Nokia Finland took notice of the three top winners to include them in a traveling international mask festival."

Other new attractions are an Alter Trade show featuring all-organic products, skydiving and aerial shows, MassKarabaw pageant and a paddled banca race. But most awaited are the MassKara Fantasy Costume Parade show on October 14, the Latin Open Dance Sport competition on October 15, the MassKara Queen beauty pageant on October 16, the Mayor's Cup Open Golf tournament on October 17, and the Drum and Bugle Corps parade on October 18. As is the tradition, the MassKara streetdance is always held on October 19, the last day of the festival, to coincide with the Charter Day anniversary of Bacolod City which turns 65 this year.

City of smiles

Just as the MassKara Festival has become a major tourism event, so has Bacolod, the City of Smiles, grown by leaps and bounds. A highly urbanized city, it has recently been tagged as the "Most Livable City" in the Philippines, according to a recent survey conducted by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

It has earned its tag as a Convention City for providing better meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibits (MICE) facilities within the Visayas region, often besting over Panay for quality and Mindanao for peace and order. In fact, it is through the MICE events that visitors often discover the charm of Bacolod and plan for a return trip. "Likewise, Bacolod is the entry point to the other municipalities of Negros Occidental and as such provides the ideal springboard for those areas to promote their tourism features," added Mayor Valdez.

For being a consistent winner in the Clean and Green contest in the past three years, Bacolod has catapulted itself into the Hall of Fame of the prestigious "Gawad Pangulo sa Kapaligiran," earning a cash prize of P2 million and an annual incentive of P1 million worth of environment-related projects.

In the regional level, Bacolod topped in terms of its disaster preparedness, emergency response, placement of out-of-school youth and persons with disabilities, early childhood development programs, anti-drug addiction campaign, environmental protection and housing relocation. The Local Productivity Performance Measurement System (LPPMS) recently rated the Valdez administration 89.85 percent, which indicates an above par performance in 2002.

Through the united efforts of both the private and public sector, Bacolod City is currently reaping the rewards of progress and development. In many ways "the MassKara has successfully propped the morale, not only of the people of Bacolod, but of the entire Negros Occidental province, as well, " Valdes stated.

Indeed, Bacolod has come a long way from its dark days, its people no longer needing to hide their grief behind painted masks. Today, the Bacolodnons' smiles have become real expressions of joy.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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