Story & photos by Gretchen Filart Dublin
August was a month when the world was shaken by tragedies and misfortunes: harrowing earthquakes that devastated Italy and Myanmar, and an all-time low for global gold-stocks relationships, to name some.
In southern Luzon, a different kind of wave was shaking Quezon Province—one of merry beats, vibrant sights and blithe spirits.
The Niyogyugan Festival 2016, held from August 15 to 27 in Lucena, was what locals deemed the festival of all festivals. According to Provincial Administrator Romulo Edaño Jr., the annual festival takes root from Quezon’s ancestors and mirrors the province’s character—and that such should be leveraged in order “to promote and market local tourism.”
A portmanteau of niyog or coconut—Quezon’s chief agricultural product—and yugyog (to shake), this year’s festivities showcased not only the heritage and culture of Quezon but also the province’s main source of livelihood. With 2.1 million industry workers and an annual yield of 2 billion coconuts, Quezon remains the Philippines’s top coconut producer.
This year’s Niyogyugan Festival proved nothing less. From a simple trade fair during its launch in 2011, the festival evolved into a full-blown two-week celebration peppered with musical performances, street-dance competitions, parades, trade booths and a prestigious beauty pageant, all celebrating the spirit of the coconut industry.
Droves of people—a vibrant mix of natives, local tourists and a few foreign ones—took to the streets to participate in the festivities. Colorful booths curated from coconut derivatives—husks, fibers, trunks and shells—lined the provincial capitol, each bearing the signature product of each of 37 participating municipalities. Winners brought home up to 5 million in development funds.
Even with the massive influx of tourists, people excitedly waited in line to sample delicacies and purchase coco-based products, such as virgin coconut oil, lambanog and coconut sap.
This year also marked the first Niyogyugan triathlon, which was participated by athletes from as far as Camarines Sur and Baler.
Trade booths notwithstanding, another must-see are the elaborate parade floats that housed Bb. Niyogyugan candidates during the last-day parade. As Niyogyugan tradition goes, the floats were painstakingly crafted from scratch using coconuts.
“Niyogyugan na!” the street dancers cheered as they sashayed across the capital alongside pageant candidates garbed in stunning coco-fiber gowns. People followed kilometer by kilometer and even with the searing heat, zeal and thrill filled Lucena’s streets.
The city possessed an energy so festive, it wasn’t too hard for an outsider like me to feel that, even in its infancy, Niyogyugan Festival holds much promise for the people of Quezon, especially for those who thrive in the coconut industry.
Shaking Quezon’s coconut and tourism industry
“It really is a celebration of life,” Provincial Tourism Officer Alberto Bay said. “Everywhere you look in Quezon, there are coconuts and coconuteers. The coconut also plays an important role in our history. Villa Escudero is one of the Philippines’s first coconut plantations, and it has now turned into a premier tourist destination. In Sariaya we have the heritage houses, which are all products of the coconut industry.”
Bay said the festival, now on its fifth year, advances both the tourism and agricultural sectors by linking farmers and laborers to various local markets. By opening up opportunities for them to earn, more coconut-based products are manufactured, which helps grow the industry in a sustainable way.
“It developed market linkages and encouraged them to plant more coconuts. Winning municipalities were able to use the cash prize for agricultural and tourism projects. More farmers and fishermen experience an improved quality of life,” he said.
From 2.9 million in total sales in 2011, this year’s Niyogyugan Festival garnered over 12 million in trade exhibit sales. Visitor arrivals also doubled from last year.
Gajo stressed the festival’s vital role in adding more value to coconut-based products. When there is high market demand for such products, there is also less desire for locals to cut down trees for coco lumber, a practice that adversely affects the coconut industry.
“By value adding, such as the processing of coconut into fiber or coco sugar, we are preventing soil erosion and ecological damage. We are also able to provide alternatives to simply selling raw coconuts or copra, because the prices of these are very volatile and offer little income for our local farmers,” he noted.
Department of Tourism Region 4A Director Rebecca Villanueva-Labit added that, on a wider scale, the goal is to develop the festival to be at par with other renowned Philippine festivals, such as Dinagyang, Panagbenga and Sinulog.
The Niyogyugan Festival, she said, is a perfect opportunity to attract both local and international tourists and to promote lesser-known destinations in Quezon, including Alabat, the Pollillo Group of Islands, Real, Infanta and General Nakar.
Such municipalities are often overlooked by tourists in favor of more popular and emerging destinations in Quezon, like Balesin Island, Cagbalete and Jomalig.
Quezon currently ranks third in Region 4A in terms of tourist arrivals. “These lesser-known destinations offer a lot in terms of beauty and natural attractions. Alabat, for example, is very interesting because of its rustic feel and the fact that one side of it is surrounded by Lamon Bay and the other by the Pacific Ocean. On one side, the water is calmer and the sand, coarse. On the other hand, one experiences rougher seas and finer sand. Both sides can be viewed from a vantage point in Alabat,” Labit enthused.
Endeavors to promote the festival
Gearing up for bigger festivities next year, the local government works double time to build up its current position and seek more media exposure. Festival management seminars are also in place for locals to gain a deeper understanding of the festival and how it can benefit them.
To help ease traffic during the festivities, the local government coordinated with local authorities and provided accreditation to hospitality outfits so that more tourists can be accommodated.
During an interview, Edaño said, “Niyogyugan Festival mirrors the Filipino culture, and we hope that, with community effort, we can boost visitor arrivals and be on the same tourism level as Palawan.”
If this year’s festival is any indication, it is hardly far-fetched for that dream to come to life.