BACOLOD CITY, November 3, 2003 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - The streets of Bacolod City were once again witness to the Negrenses’ love for fun, color and excitement as people celebrated the week-long Masskara festival recently. In its 24th year, the celebration proved to be a crowd drawer where local and foreign tourists joined the festivities. With overcast clouds and a cool breeze, spectators gamely craned their necks just to keep a keen eye on fabulously dressed Masskara dancers.

When the street dance competition began, audiences let go of their oohs and ahhs, reflective of how much they enjoyed the scene of revelry and reverence. After four consecutive years of attending Masskara, I am still impressed by the world-class performance. In fact, my companions like Perceptions’ Noel Nieva, Kate Zapanta and Marge San Jose, and I found ourselves stomping our feet and swaying our hips as participants – replete with eclectic sartorial attire and exquisite masks – pranced their way to the streets.

With the sea of humanity participating in the event, it was really apt that Pfizer’s anti-motion sickness pill Bonamine lent support to the celebration via the WOW Philippines’ Biyahe Tayo!, the domestic travel advocacy campaign of the drug company. Bonamine truly makes traveling more enjoyable without the discomfort of biyahilo. Biyahe Tayo! was first launched at the week-long celebrations of the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City recently.

After the merrymaking, Bacolod City Mayor Joy Valdez, festival director Girlie Belzunce and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare’s marketing director Jojo Conti were on hand to congratulate the winners this year. First prize went to Brgy. Villamonte (P125,000); second prize, Brgy. Taculing (P100,000); and third prize, Brgy. Singcang Airport (P75,000). Brgy. Villamonte was also adjudged best in mask and headdress, best in costume, best in identification banner, and best choreography.

Of course, right after the announcement of winners, the sky lit up with an awesome fireworks display. The brilliant beacon of lights in the sky became even more significant as the theme song of Biyahe Tayo was played. It was a truly inspiring moment as we felt that efforts to promote domestic tourism have become a smashing success. The song, written by Rene Nieva and arranged by Mike Villegas of Rizal Underground and Rico Blanco of River Maya, had the voices of talented Filipino artists like Lea Salonga, Freddie Aguilar, Sharon Cuneta, Janno Gibbs, Jolina Magdangal, Rey Valera, Joey Ayala, APO Hiking Society, Francis Magalona, April Boy Regino, Jessa Zaragosa, Rico J. Puno, Paolo Santos, Nina, and Rivermaya. The artists involved in the production of this song graciously gave their services pro bono as part of their contribution as members of the Artists for Philippine Tourism Movement.

As always, my stay in Bacolod was not only summed up by the Masskara Festival. Apart from my memorable stay at the Casino Filipino Hotel and watching the gig of sultry singer Nina at Bar 21, one of Bacolod’s most-happening place, we discovered more. Through the help of Sonia Maranon Sarrosa and Charina Tupas, I was ushered to one of Negrenses’ pride and glory: the Negros Museum. Conceived in 1987, the museum plays the vital role of preserving Negros Occidental’s colorful history. The twist, however, of this museum lies not in focusing much on precious artifacts but instead in innovative use of original contemporary artworks as well as quality reproduction to essay the story of Negros. The museum is housed inside Bacolod’s historic neoclassical capitol building built in 1925. The structure was considered by the late National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin as the most beautiful capitol building in the Philippines because of its beautiful and intricate symmetry and proportion.

Negros Cultural Foundation president Marilyn Gamboa toured us around the museum. It was delightful to see cross-cultural folk arts and toys from more than 60 countries at the JGM Gallery of International Folk Arts and Toys. The 3,000-piece collection in this gallery was donated by Mara Montelibano. The Governor’s Gallery, on the other hand, features portraits of the past 33 governors of the province.

The Antonio Chan Gallery has the Cinco de Noviembre walk-through exhibit on the 1898 revolution in Negros against the Spaniards. Here, life-sized figures made of clay allow visitors to look at the sheer creativity and ingenious disposition of Negrenses in defeating the enemies by using fake weapons. The Nov. 5, 1898 revolt led by General Juan Araneta was the first bloodless revolution in the country, 88 years ahead of the EDSA uprising.

The Phinma Gallery, courtesy of Phinma Foundation, serves as the avenue for contemporary exhibits to make Negrenses more aware of their own artistic and cultural heritage. Here also lie the fantastic features of the rest of the world’s art and culture. The Blanco Gallery, on the other hand, is a popular venue for various solo exhibits for artists, individual collection, jewelry artists, book launchings, among others.

With the Masskara Festival and the repository of historical and cultural artifacts, the Negrenses prove to all that theirs is a heritage to be proud of. Through their creativity and constant thirst for bringing to the fold their cultural narratives, Bacolod will forever be a "wow" site of the Philippines. See you there. Biyahe na!

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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