Elmer V. Recuerdo / Photos by Vincent Paulo Cortes
ORMOC CITY—The samba-like beat of the canned music blared from a sound system as the kids perfectly executed their street-dance performance.
The audience that started lining the streets before noon enthusiastically cheered for their favorite group. Some could not help, but dance to the tune, as well.
Many members of the audience and the participants came all the way from neighboring towns to share in the celebration. The air was expectedly both festive and celebratory. After all, it was Ormoc’s 420th city fiesta and the return of the well-loved Piña Festival after half a decade of hiatus.
The Piña Festival celebrates the bountiful harvest of pineapple, a product of distinction for the city. It also honors its patron protectors, Saints Peter and Paul. The actual date of the fiesta is June 29, but was held on June 25 this year, so that the celebration took place on a Sunday.
“This festival is giving honor to Saints Peter and Paul for the good harvest of pineapple the entire year, for the blessings, for the manpower and labor,” said Estrella Serafica-Pangilinan, chairman of the Ormoc Festival and Cultural Foundation, which led the resurrection of the festival.
“The Ormoc Queen pineapple variety is among the sweetest in the world. We would like to celebrate this local produce which we can claim as indigenously ours. This is one of the foremost considerations when we decided to rename our festival after this truly Ormocanon fruit,” Pangilinan added.
“The Piña Festival which coincides with the celebration of the feast of our patron saints, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is envisioned to be the ultimate cultural program of our city. The festival pays homage to our patron saints, for all the blessings they have bestowed on our city,” she said.
The Piña Festival used to be celebrated in the city during its annual fiesta until 2010, when a new city administration replaced it with the Tugob Festival. Tugob is a Visayan word that means “bountiful” or “abundant”. The Tugob Festival was held as the highlight of the city’s Charter Day on October 20.
Pangilinan added the decision to bring back the Piña Festival was a result of comprehensive consultations with the city government, tourism and heritage experts, the education sector, local dance choreographers and production directors, as well as with other Ormocanons. “We felt that by redesigning our festival, we will be able to truly compete with other established festivals all over the country,” she said.
Movie actor and Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez, who promoted the festival in various fora and media, believes the Piña Festival will help bring in tourists to the city. He supports the choice of the local pineapple as the centerpiece of the annual festival.
“The significance of the piña is that Ormoc is known for its great pineapples. For the longest time, this has been recognized. Everywhere you go in the country, they know that one of the best-tasting pineapples can be found in Ormoc City. That’s the reason why we are bringing back the Piña Festival,” he said.
PETER Rodriguez, who has headed the fiesta executive committee for years, said this year’s Piña Festival was the most grandiose festival the city ever had in terms of participation, pageantry and prizes, and where P500,000 awaited the grand winner.
“This fiesta had a lot of firsts. This was the most challenging I have ever handled,” he said.
Even corporate sponsors lined up to participate in the celebration. The Ormoc Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) took charge of resource generation for all the activities. Donations from corporations went to the OCCI, which in return allocated the budget for all the activities.
While it was the first attempt to bring back the well-loved festival to the city, there are already plans of sustaining it albeit on a grander scale.
“What we trying to do with the Piña Festival is that locally, we want to make it good, we want to make the best with our limited budget,” Gomez said. “We are hoping that with the kind of festival we came up with, we will be invited to other festivals to showcase our presentation.”
There are plans to register the Piña Festival with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to recognize it as the official city fiesta.
“Hopefully, it will be included in the activities of the DoT and NCCA,” Gomez added.
Pangilinan said there is a big chance the festival will be recognized by both government agencies, since festivals are based either on the locals’ religion, history and culture and/or local produce.
She cited the case of Sinulog and Pintados festivals of Cebu and Tacloban, which are both in honor of Señor Santo Niño; and Bacolod’s Maskara Festival to celebrate their resiliency and positive disposition, especially during the sugarcane-industry crisis in the 1980s.
Camiguin has the Lanzones Festival, to celebrate a fruit that closely identifies the province. Baguio City has its Panagbenga Festival, which showcases the beautiful blooms of the city.
“The Piña Festival seeks to promote not only Ormoc’s very own sweet queen pineapple, but will manifest every Ormocanon’s beautiful and sunshine-y nature—that despite the challenges portrayed by the fruit’s thorny exterior, we are able to overcome these challenges and grow a crown over our heads as symbols of our triumph over all adversities,” she said.
While some critics question the use of the local pineapple as the centerpiece of the festival—sugarcane being the city’s primary agricultural product—festival organizers are quick to defend their choice.
Gomez said that while sugar remains the biggest agricultural product of Ormoc, he said local production could not compare with that of Bacolod, Negros and Pampanga.
“We have to choose where our product creates a mark and that is pineapple. In terms of table pineapple, Ormoc offers the best in the country,” he added.
Ormoc’s reputation of producing the best table pineapple is already known to many. The fruit is even now becoming an emerging export product of the city.
Gomez said one Ormoc businessman is already exporting between three to six containers of pineapple a month to Korea. In support to this, Gomez is requesting the Department of Agriculture to have one quarantine officer to be based on Ormoc to expedite the processing of export documents.
“We hope that the Piña Festival will be a great start to a new and better identity for all Ormocanons—a cultural heritage that will embody our common aspirations, while enriching us as one people desiring to get Ormoc City as one of the top major tourist destinations in the country,” Pangilinan said.