MANILA, April 19, 2004  (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Joie de vivre means to live and celebrate life with vitality, verve, and vigor. Nowhere else in the Philippines is this more alive than in Negros where Negrenses’ passion for merriment comes in full circle as they rejoice at the Panaad festival. Panaad is the vernacular for "vow," thus Negrenses take pride and honor in celebrating it yearly.

What Masskara is to Bacolod, Panaad is to the whole of Negros Occidental. Panaad, dubbed as the mother of all festivals and now on its 11th year of celebration, does not only showcase mask-bearing revelers of Bacolod, but also gaily-clad merrymakers from the many towns and cities of Negros as well as the best of their culture, arts, and world-class products like food, fruits, furniture, baskets and more.

Taking centerstage at the Panaad were fiestas being held in the province’s 32 towns and cities like "Pinta Flores" which is the emerging festival of San Carlos City. This festival highlights the traditional fiesta celebration in honor of its patron San Carlos Borromeo on the first week of July. It features street dancing by tribes dressed in colorful ethnic-inspired costumes, with their bodies painted with flower designs reminiscent of the tattooed Visayans of the pre-Spanish Negros.

"Pasasalamat," held on the first Sunday of May, is a harvest and thanksgiving celebration among people of La Carlota City. "Sinigayan Festival," on the other hand, is an annual thanksgiving in honor of St. Joseph. This festival showcases the best of Sagay – the arts, culture, products and its people. According to Sagay Mayor Fortunato Javelosa, this event usually falls on the third week of March and is highlighted by streetdance competition with the participants dressed in shell(sigay-decorated costumes.)

"Sinulog sa Ilog" is a celebration of the triumph of Christian warriors against Muslim pirates with the divine intercession of the Sto. Nino. The festival is held in the month of June in the town of Ilog, the first capital of Negros Island.

Among other festivals highlighted in Panaad included "Kansilayan" of Silay City, "Babaylan" of Bago City, "Bailes de Luces" of La Castellana, "Minuluan" of Talisay, "Mudpack" of Murcia, "Dinagsa" of Cadiz, "Sinulog" of Kabankalan, and "Himayaan" of Himamaylan.

Attending Panaad is being privy to the graciousness and hospitality of the people of Negros. I experienced their warmth when my hosts Congressman Alfredo Maranon and Governor Joseph Maranon gave me a guided tour of the Panaad Village, a 25-hectare eucalyptus forest replete with structures depicting the many sights and sounds that can be found in the province. In this village, visitors get to experience and "walk through" the entire province through the permanent booths of each town and city – structures that symbolize their history, arts, culture, or prevailing industry. Talisay City, for example, has a replica of an ancestral house with the sign "Dayon kamo," meaning "Come inside," the ubiquitous Negrense line that speaks of his hospitality. Calatraba, which is located in the mountainous north, has a cave for its booth to emphasize the town’s wildlife attraction. La Carlota has a man-made waterfalls to denote its cool and refreshing mountain resorts.

Negros Occidental’s tourism slogan, "Sugar…and more!" came alive during the celebration of Panaad. Different sugar companies and mills went out of their way to showcase the best there is in the industry through their respective booths at the festival site. Balay Kalamay (Sugar House) had for its booth an "Iron Dinosaur" which served as the main mode of transportation for canes in the past. Balay Kalamay also sold sugar-based food like butong-butong and piaya. Visitors also got acquainted with the sugar industry in the province and how to this day sugar continues to be the province’s top export product and the number one job generator. The estimated income from sugar was placed at P18.07 billion in 2001 to 2002, with a production of 19,968,060 bags of sugar.

The celebration also gave way to the celebration of the International Year of Rice with the inclusion of Philippine Rice Research Institute in the festival. With the theme "Rice is Life, Rice is Jobs," PhilRice mounted an exhibit to showcase the latest in rice research, technologies and varieties. With the initiative of Gov. Maranon, PhilRice was able to establish its station and research facility in the town of Murcia to serve the needs of farmers. Maranon also pushed for rice hybridization in 2001 with 100 hectares of farmland planted with hybrid rice that resulted in yield increase. As of last year, 500 hectares have been planted with hybrid rice.

At the center of the Panaad Village is a humongous sports stadium that can house 25,000 spectators. On the day of the culmination of the festival, the whole gang of Eat Bulaga was there at the stadium. The place was jampacked and Negrenses shouted with glee at the sight of Pia Guanio, Francis Magalona, Janno Gibbs, among other celebrities..

While enjoying the week-long Panaad festival, I had a grand time at the Nature’s Village Resort. The resort, located in Talisay City, is both a home away from home for visitors taking a vacation in Bacolod and an oasis for the modern-day businessman. Its affable owner, Sonia Sarrosa, welcomes guests as if welcoming long-lost friends to her expansive resort replete with a 16-bay driving range, 25-meter resort pools and kiddie pools. It also boasts many function rooms ideal for any event. The air-conditioned rooms are comfortable and ultra clean, as if assuring guests of a memorable stay. The resort is so big, one can go biking, or horseback riding, or fishing. Those who want to lounge around can treat themselves to the resort’s clean, fresh air while relaxing in nature’s grace and bounty.

According to Nina Paras who helped Sarrosa implement the interiors of the lovely resort, "Every piece of furniture in the resort is a work of art created by the village workshop." Many of these pieces were designed or personally crafted by Sarrosa herself.

Another place to discover in Bacolod is Sweet Greens, a home, garden, and kitchen rolled into one located on Lacson Street. It’s a home because it sells scented candles and accessories for the home. It’s a garden because the place sells orchids and potted plants, among other ornamentals. It’s a kitchen because what started as an orchidarium has developed into a café of sorts serving the best appetizers, salads, soups, pasta and noodles, and three-dish-meals.

Nightlife in Bacolod is also throbbing. With the enjoyable company of the brother-and-sister tandem of Lyndon and Charina Tupas, we discovered that a night out in the city offers many possibilities. There are a number of bars with live entertainment, video, karaoke, and game rooms. There are discos where Negrenses dance and mingle till the wee hours of the morning. The Goldenfields complex in the heart of the city has a selection of night spots which include the casinos.

Another marvelous find in the city is the Calea which serves the best chocolate cake among other sweets and pastries. Many city dwellers have their nightcaps there and indulge in serious to mundane conversation, from politics to showbiz chismis. Pendy’s is where one can get the best mango and caramel tarts, dulce yema, napoleones, banana and durian chips, barquiron and dried fish like palad and the tocino-flavored fish’s tinik.

Negros Occidental ranks high in my list of favorite destinations. Make it yours too. The Negrenses are truly hospitable, their furniture, produce, and golf courses are world-class, the cuisine is delightful, the resorts and accommodations are elegant and cozy, roads are excellent and nature is at its best. What more can one ask for?

For more information about Panaad, call the public information office of the Gov. Joseph Maranon at (034) 434-9039 or 709-8771. Nature’s Village Resort can be reached at (034) 495-0808 or 495-3368. Inquiries at the Garden Café of Sweet Greens can be coursed through at (034) 709-0958 or 433-8652. Pendy’s can be reached at (074) 434-0269.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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