Dinagyang time, but it’s going to be different this year

Published January 9, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Jules Vivas

How the monumental occasion will be observed later this month, and an exclusive look at Iloilo City during the pandemic

UNDYING DEVOTION Dinagyang primarily honors the Senor Sto. Nino (Photo by Mayad)

At the heart of the Philippines lies the Queen of all festivals.

Dagyang fever is in the air! Drawn from this Hiligaynon term for frolic or merriment is Dinagyang, one of the biggest, most prominent festivals in the country, in fact the most awarded. Due to the health crisis, the religious and cultural festivity of Iloilo will be held online—such is the trend for major fiestas nowadays. Set to take place in the digital space, the grand affair still promises to showcase the culture and traditions of the Ilonggos, all the while promoting creativity with performances, gimmicks, dramas, and choreography that should be up to par with those carried out pre-pandemic.

Known as the Ilonggo version of the Ati-atihan, the celebration is a form of reverence to the Santo Niño. It also serves as a marker of the arrival of Malay immigrants. The fete was initiated by the parish priest of the San Jose Parish and the first Filipino rector of the Augustinian community, Fr. Ambrosio Galindez, who introduced the devotion to the Holy Child to the province in November 1967. In 1968, Fr. Sulpicio Enderez brought to Iloilo a replica of the Santo Niño de Cebu, which was given a grand reception by a delegation from Cofradia del Sto. Niño de Cebu parading from the Iloilo Airport down to the streets of the city. Patterned after Kalibo Aklan’s processions, the Dinagyang is marked by flamboyant costumes and traditional dances. The fun in this, for both local and international tourists, lies in getting familiar with Ilonggo culture.

Divided into three major activities held every fourth weekend of January, the Dingayang consists of theDagyang sa Calle Real featuring barangay-based tribe performances on the streets of the City Proper district of the same name, the main event Ati Tribe Competition with warrior dancers whose skin are painted black swaying and chanting to the beat of loud drums and improvised percussions, and the Miss Iloilo Dinagyang, a pageant on the week of the festival highlights.

The Kasadyahan Cultural competition was added to the festival in the ’80s to display the talents of students and the rich cultural heritage of the Western Visayan region. Visitors from Manila and abroad would go to great lengths just to witness the folk and tribe dancing of school youths.

On a fairly recent trip to Iloilo, my editor AA Patawaran and I had the chance to converse with Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas over a sumptuous lunch hosted by renowned Iloilo chef Tibong Jardeleza at one of the most well-known seafood haunts in Iloilo, Breakthrough Restaurant in the Villa Arevalo district. The mayor greeted us with a smile, and with great pride and enthusiasm showed us his phone whose screen had flashed the number of Covid cases in the city that day—zero. He thought that his term as the head of Iloilo would be the easiest in his career holding various government posts since 1986, but then Covid came into the picture. “This [pandemic] has never happened before. It is new to all of us,” says the 64-year-old statesman. But with the combined efforts of his office, private businesses and organizations, and the Ilonggo people, Iloilo has been doing well, all things considered.

ILOILOS FATHER Mayor Jerry Treñas

“Everyone here is helping each other. That’s why we are called the Wakanda of the Philippines. Everyone is doing his job,” he explains. The local government unit has provided dormitories for health workers, bakeries offered pandesal for free to everyone, 240 community kitchens were established despite the city having only 180 barangays, among others, making sure that the Ilonggos, especially the frontliners, were well taken care of.

“It’s all about bayanihan,” beams Mayor Jerry. “When there were problems with the availability of PPEs, test kits, and respirators, there were big businessmen who provided them. Those big businessmen also worked together to get the Sub-National Laboratory (SNL) accredited.”

THE SHOW MASK GO ON A dancer during the audition (Photo from the Ilonggo Artists Festival Association)

As the oysters, lobster sashimi, sea mantis, and all the fresh bounty of the sea, including creamy managat, were laid on the table, we spoke of the coming festival. “Dinagyang 2021 will be digital. Unfortunately, we cannot do it face-to-face,” says the veteran politician who has worked in the government for 35 years and running.

Dubbed as “One Dinagyang One Iloilo Halad kay Sr. Sto. Niño,” this year’s celebration will be broadcast on social media. To guarantee everyone’s safety, no food festivals and live concerts will be conducted, and all activities are pre-filmed. Hosted by Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Occeña Mateo with Kapuso artist Rocco Nacino, Dinagyang 2021 begins with an opening salvo on Jan. 15, followed by the most-anticipated Religious Sadsad street dancing on the Jan. 23, and the Dinagyang Mass that concludes with dance and musical presentations.

DOGNAGYANG The Iloilo Dinagyang social media pages scours the internet for event related photos such as this canine in a tribe costume

Mayor Jerry assured that the participants in the ceremonial dance had been constantly tested against the coronavirus disease and quarantined for a month to practice and record their performance. “We tested them for Covid from time to time, just to make sure that they were safe.”

There are seven tribus, one from each district, composed of 30 dancers aged 20 years and older. Participants underwent Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing, as per recommendation of the city government’s Covid-19 Task Force. The dancers rehearsed and filmed within a 20-day bubble, delayed by two extra two days of shoot due to heavy rains caused by the recent Tropical Depression “Vicky.” Filming wrapped up at the San Jose Parish Placer and the Sunburst Park, both in the City Proper.

I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE Interactive activities are also available in their social media pages

This year’s Dinagyang will feature a grand number supervised by the Ilonggo Artists Festival Association, Inc. (IAFA), a newly established organization by festival industry workers formed by choreographers, musical and artistic directors, costume designers, visual artists, and production designers. Its current president is Romel Flogen, who said in a press conference that the theme One Dinagyang was derived from the idea that there would be no competition this year. “We were asked by the Iloilo Festival Foundation, Inc. (IFFI) to plan out and brainstorm on Dinagyang 2021… So what we came up with is to unite the tribes and collaborate among them.” The theme was developed by artistic directors Jomar Sustento, Rheno Mar Soqueño, and Ron Espinosa.

FIESTA SAFELY Dancers strictly maintain social distancing and health protocols as they perform

“We learned a lot, especially the concept and the history of each district, because previous Dinagyangs [showed] epics and rituals but this time we learned what Iloilo was all about: the place, the people, the religious side, and the history of each district, which we can adopt for the next Dinagyangs. It’s advantageous for us choreographers,” ends Romel.

Aside from the main programs there will also be an arts competition on Jan. 10, called Pinta sa Kapiestahan, the first mural painting competition in Dinagyang history, and the fifth installment of the Padayon Bato Iloilo, a trade fair for MSMEs and local businesses from Jan 18 to 24. The gathering of entrepreneurs was mounted by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Iloilo Chapter Inc. (PCCI).

Dinagyang 2021 is organized by IFFI led by its president, lawyer Jobert Peñaflorida. iloilofestivals.com | Facebook and Twitter @IloiloDinagyang2021