Hala bira!

SM Group throws massive support behind Dinagyang, the mother of Philippine festivals

Over the weekend, cheers of “Hala Bira!” and “Viva Pit Señor” filled the streets of Iloilo City and, more

than expressions of deep devotion to the Sto. Niño, the Infant Jesus, these cheers have also been about rah-rah-ing the Ilonggos and their visitors to shout for joy about all that is worth shouting about in Iloilo.

There was more to shout about this year, the return of Dinagyang to the streets after two years of pandemic restrictions, for one, but more because with Joe Mari Layson chairing the Iloilo Festivals Foundation Inc. (IFFI), no stone had been left unturned in making the comeback a roaring success.

No less than the SM Group, well-represented by the sprawling, 170,000-square-meter SM City Iloilo, the eighth of the chain’s supermalls, on Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue in Mandurriao, threw massive support behind what is generally considered the “mother of Philippine festivals,” donating a hefty amount to the cause. SM Supermalls president Steven Tan flew in to hand over ₱10 million in cash to the IFFI in simple ceremonies over lunch at Breakthrough in Villa Arevalo, with Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas as witness.

BIG BENEFACTOR As support to the Dinagyang Festival, SM Supermalls president Steven Tan (second from right) entrusts a ₱10 million check to Iloilo Festivals Foundation Incorporated president Joe Mari Layson (center) as witnessed by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas

The donation, topped by ₱7 million more in kind from SM City Iloilo, would go a long way now that the IFFI had introduced the latest of Dinagyang innovation, the Ilomination, held the night before Dinagyang, on Saturday night, with seven tribes representing the seven districts of Iloilo City—City Proper, Jaro, La Paz, Lapuz, Mandurriao, Molo, and Villa Arevalo—competing against each other with dazzling performances in their uniquely illuminated costumes and props.

Although the stage where the performances were held spanned the whole stretch of Iloilo Diversion Road in Mandurriao, from Atria Park to the Iloilo Business Park, the main judging area was right at the entrance of SM City Iloilo. It was also where the VIPs congregated, led by Mayor Treñas, Senator Franklin Drilon, and Senator Pia Hontiveros. Present were ambassadors like Tull Traisorat of Thailand, Xiomara Perez Rodriguez of Panama, Agus Widjojo of Indonesia, Borhan Uddin of Bangladesh, Folakemi Ibidunni Akinleye of Nigeria, Christian Halaas Lyster of Norway, and Raduta Dana Matache of Romania. Also spotted were sensational blogger Small Laude, and media darlings Tim Yap, Tessa Prieto, and Karen Davila.

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT A new component to this year's Dinagyang Festival is the Ilomination, an evening competition where representatives of the seven districts of Iloilo City perform with illuminated costumes and props (Jade Dequiña)

Emerging as champion for the first-ever Dinagyang Ilomination competition was Tribu La Paz, which, also cited as best in music and best in musical direction, received the grand prize of ₱1 million in cash. Tribu Molo came in second, also bagging the awards for best in light and best light designer while Tribu Mandurriao came in as third, also winning awards for best in costume design and headdress and best costume designer.

As for Dinagyang proper, held the following day at the New Iloilo Freedom Grandstand on Muelle Loney Street in Iloilo City Proper, the grand winner of Dagyang sa Barangay, the main event of the annual festival held every year on the fourth Sunday of January, in which eight barangay clans competed, was Tribu Parianon of the Molo district, bagging the ₱1 million cash prize, along with the awards for best in music, best in choreography, and best in performance. Tribu Molave kang Salog, previously called Tribu Barangayan, was first runner-up, also cited as the people’s choice, best in costume design and headdress, and best in production design. Tribu Familia Sagasa was second runner-up.

BATCHOY CONVERSATION Enjoying each other's company over the Ilonggo staple La Paz batchoy are (from left) the author, Tim Yap, Tessa Prieto, Steven Tan, Mayor Jerry Treñas, Karen Davila, and Tibong Jardeleza

It was a crazy weekend with simultaneous events and parties going on, including the Batchoy Festival at SM Southpoint, the AweSM PCCI-ILOBEX Dinagyang trade fair, the Viva Music Festival at the SM South Point Parking, and the AweSM Iloilo musical fireworks and drone show.

SM Supermalls president Steven Tan flew in to hand over ₱10 million in cash to the IFFI in simple ceremonies over lunch at Breakthrough in Villa Arevalo, with Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas as witness.

Mayor Treñas hosted a VVIP dinner at the grand ballroom of the Park Inn by Radisson Iloilo in honor of Steven Tan, from which we all proceeded to the pool deck to watch the fireworks and dance the night away with Bacolod band Mojo Nova. But we still had enough energy to go to an afterparty at the Azul Latin Bistro, where all of Manila showed up, including fashion maverick Chris Nick de los Reyes, hair stylist Jing Monis, chef Francis Tolentino, Globe Telecom’s Mic Coson, and H&M Philippines’ Dan Mejia. From there, with Iloilo cuisine and culture advocate, chef Tibong Jardeleza, Tessa, Tim, and I, joined later by publicist Keren Pascual, proceeded to Luna’s to cap the night with arroz caldo.

ILOILO GLOW The staging of the Dinagyang Ilomination tribes competition on the evening of Jan. 21, 2023 was a showcase the major growth areas of Iloilo City

As if it wasn’t busy enough, on Sunday afternoon, we joined First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos and Mayor Treñas, as Steven Tan representing SM Foundation Inc. (SMFI), with SMFI health and medical programs director Connie Angeles, turned over the newly upgraded pediatric ward of the Western Visayas Sate University Medical Center (WVSUMC) to WVSUMC president Dr. Joselito Villaruz and WVSU hospital director Dr. Dave Endel R. Gelito III.

While the pediatric ward, which offers procedures such as IV insertion, chemotherapy, and lumbar puncture, treating a whole range of illnesses and diseases, from pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and malnutrition to epilepsy, seizures, brain tumors, and cancer, is designed principally to serve patients from Iloilo City’s underserved communities, it also serves other cities and municipalities in the region, including Antique, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras, and even Palawan and Negros Occidental.

IN HONOR OF THE STO. NIÑO Joining the turnover of the refurbished Western Visayas State University Medical Center pediatric ward are (from left) SM Supermalls president Steven Tan, First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, WVSU Hospital director Dr. Dave Endel R. Gelito III, and executive director for health and medical programs Connie Angeles

SMFI has refurbished the ward’s step-down NICU, pediatric ward for non-infectious cases, and treatment room and equipped it with specialized medical appliances and devices, such as pediatric cribs, bassinets, treatment beds, nebulizers, gun thermometers, and a mini refrigerator for vaccines. The center also received breastfeeding chairs, divan chairs, office tables and chairs, beddings, pillows, TV, water dispenser, and ceiling fans. Moreover, the SMFI upgraded the hallway, toilet, and hand washing area. To date, SMFI has renovated more than 170 health and wellness centers and served more than one million patients on its medical missions.

Iloilo City is such a happening place. There really are many reasons to scream “Hala Bira!” if what we mean is “Keep going, Iloilo! Go! Go! Go!” There really are many things to thank the Sto. Niño for.