Thursday, 31 January 2013

Dinagyang 2013 Behind the Scene

People evolve. Festivals evolve. Values evolve.  Sometimes we forget the back side of doing  things, we revolve our focus only on the front
BLAME IT TO MY NAME. My real name is Percy which means “keen-eyed” in the dictionary of names. So I see things other people may not see. PJ is my professional name. I am a designer. So, modesty aside,  I may see things deeper than others.  

 I am also a pure Ilonggo and I am very proud of my race and my city. I write this because I love Iloilo City so much because it promises to be, indeed, the new frontier in the Philippines--the reason I left Manila after 30 years and go back in full circle to invest in Iloilo. 

I reckon, how can I promote my city for others to experience if I do not love it so dearly? If I do not share what I can  as a responsible citizen to help build our city and our nation as well, what is the purpose of our co-existence within our society?   Others may read this as complaints.  But please read this article as constructive suggestions. Who else will embrace our own  shortcomings when we do not share what we see?

This in my story  about Dinagyang,  our annual festival in Iloilo City, Philippines,  which happened before my eyes and in between my nose. It is our cultural and historical festival in the city. After almost 12 years for not being able to see the festival, my eyes looked at the festival in another way from my experience last Sunday.   

This is not a general observation as it was within only the Capitol area where I was. But I assume it is the same in others and the same public sentiments to us Ilonggos and our guests.  I thought I love my city so much I must blog these “ weaknesses”.  But this does not mean I did not enjoy Dinagyang. I did. I loved it still. 

 I have shared my Dinagyang story with my close friends.  They prodded me to blog it. My events management experience surfaced, so here it is. 

MY WAY. Two days before the main event, I posted in facebook that I do not have tickets to see the participating tribes’ performance competitions.  I did not have any idea where to buy these tickets for me and my Manila staff and family members at the performing area.  Our honorable city Mayor Jed Mabilog surprisingly connected with me from  whom I can buy tickets from. Our good mayor perhaps helped me becasuse I was desperate which I was . 

 I was not able to buy any way because I thought it was too hefty at Php 1,200 each  because I need to pay from my own pocket for 8 people. I decided to just save my Php 10,000 for these tickets and watch the show in the streets. I like adventures after all. Tickets or no tickets, I was happy to go and hit the streets. My idea was I was going to our city fiesta,  I must mingle  in the street with fellow Ilonggos. Would be fun to be with our folks.  

NICE SPOT I THOUGHT. At 7 am, my staff and later family members hit the city near the old Capitol. We had our portable plastic stools. I left my car nearby and walked while taking snaps of  participating tribes at rest waiting for the grand performances. There were only few people in the streets at that time. We settled  in a narrow curving street between the Capitol and Casa Plaza  almost behind the Provincial Capitol fountain &  round-about street. It was nice view I thought. 

We settled in with our stools. I said to myself,  we can sit well and see the performances---even we will see only the back view of the dancers. “Maayo na lang na kay sa wala gid.” ( Better than nothing to see).  While waiting, we had time to grab some McDo coffee from Atrium building. I was relaxed.  Few people where there at that time including  smiling senior citizens I talked with saying “ Baw, Nanay, aga ka man bah!” ( Mother, you are so early), “ Huo, Toto, kay para makatan-aw man kita it mayad” ( Yes, son, so we can see better). And hearing that Central Iloilo dialect, I knew these old folks came all the way from the interior towns.  The nice morning breeze started the day , too. We will have a great show to see ahead of us, I reckoned.  

THE PLATFORM CHOREOGRAPHY. I noticed there were people slowly bringing in scaffoldings, bamboo poles, plywood, wire and tools behind us.  I will call them “hawkers” here. They started to build make shift platforms before the crowd arrived. Their timing was precise that when the crowd swelled, their structures were completed. They  had a leader, I call here the “bald hawker” ( see his picture here),  directing the entire construction. I have never seen something like it---I must say it was well organized  to set-up their own stage. Not one but a dozen or so. It was like creating a runway ramp only fashion show director Robbie Carmona can do within 15 minutes before a show right before his audience. I knew something was wrong. My eyes started to squint now while the bald hawker started to duped people by collecting money as rentals for those who have the money to dole out.  

TRIP TO INSANITY FOR RENT. Then other hawkers were bringing in dozens and dozens of chairs filling all the walkways with only like 3 rows of people can now pass through instead of 10. All these chairs were for rent.  As people became thicker in number, the platforms as high as mezzanine floor level,  also increased in number along with the plastic chairs on the narrow street where we were seated.  (  I was able to capture these in photos, in developmental images, as blogged here. Step by step. )

The hawkers  did not lose time to sell their services. Php 50 each person  for a chair, not to sit on but to stand ( never mind if the others behind who can not see as long as one paid the amount, it was business time for them ) , Php 300 each  for those who will go up their platform and whistling  Php 500 each for  the highest platforms which were like a full storey high. There were like 12-20 hawkers who were all irritating because they were very insistent with their rental services. There were no takers. I said good. But I was wrong, as people were desperate to see the show, the platforms were filled up to the brim almost snapping it to a collapse anytime. The hawkers could have earned a clean Php 30,000 along that street, tax-free. ”Talag-sa man lang ini ah!” ( This happens only rarely) they said to me.
INVITATION TO A DANGEROUS STAMPEDE. By the time the show started, the hawkers’ structures congested the traffic flow of people in that narrow street, suffocating people including so many children and senior citizens. I did not like what I see. I am a big strong man but even I could no longer pass through the almost stampede –like scenario of people. To join my companions who were no longer seating on our own stools because they were covered and people who were pushing one another was already impossible. So since I can not pass and can not  see anything, I thought I will just look at what is really happening behind the scene than what is on the scene at the performance area.  I took cellphone pictures so I can document what my keen-eyed is usually sharp at.

WHAT WENT WRONG. This may appear like a term paper but I will outline this. What my eyes saw, I will organize here in bundles of facts and how we can correct them:

PUBLIC SAFETY FIRST. Do not allow hawkers, they created risks to public safety. In the first place, those scaffolds were dangerous and could kill people. Their intention was income generation, less taxes for the city,  never mind public danger and image of our city and the festival. There were festivals that had stampedes in the past because of too much people in one place. Many have died. Even advanced countries like in the USA, with good construction technology of their stands, have had accidents. Let us not wait this could happen in Dinagyang with all those instant structures for people to climb, mostly overloaded.
The hawkers’  skills in building, perhaps,  the organizer can legalize them and build their structures to the benefit of the public. I illustrated this how they can positively  contribute and not destroy  in one of my pictures here.

FESTIVAL FRIENDLY. The saddest impact that crushed my heart was the images when these structures crushed our senior citizens. ( I followed this old woman and another old man for 3 hours while taking  pictures and observed how they managed in the festival. My heart bleed how these hawkers and the general conditions of the festival became unfriendly to them).  Our festival  did not have the courtesy to the aged who wanted to spend their sunset years to watch their own festival some of them may been part of it in the beginning or some are proud grandparents of the young dancers. 

The same poor treatment to  the physically disabled. Worse was the situation of the children some aged as young as  2 years old , even babies, were squeezed down to the floor. The mothers were frustrated. The kids were crying. They were suffocated. I asked the parents to put their kids on their backs so the kids can breath up there on their backs. They were in sweat, tears and deprivation of a festival they wanted to enjoy. In the middle of the performance, the emcee announced for the mother of a lost kid, named John Escala.

FOREIGN TOURISTS WERE COMPLAINING AND LEAVING. Well, because they can not see. I met at least 8 groups of tourists just leaving the festival. I approached them to say sorry, at least for our festival. They also commented why Ilonggos are no longer as friendly and smiling  but rather this day they were a bit rude—pushing one another, quarreling and complaining to one another. Of course, I knew the reasons. I myself was squinting and irritable because I thought this festival became a  test of one’s skill in  maneuvering others. The art of  pushing  and pulling. 
I had some visiting foreign friends I bumped with and they just left for tranquil Guimaras Island, because there was nothing to see---the festival physical arrangements did not allow that. I even talked to a policeman manning the area and he said, he had an argument with his colleague as some foreigners were driven away by his colleague not to come close to the cordoned area. They were embarrassed so they just left. Not all tourists have money to burn to buy tickets. Fact is, many of our tourist are back packers not the high-end spenders. 

FESTIVAL OF GOOSE NECKS.  Standing on one's toes, too, was the stride position of the day. I took pictures of people just trying to stretch their heads for hours so to see something. There was a group of Koreans who just simultaneously raised their heels to at least peep through a wall of thick people in front of them who were taller than them. They finally jumped on their toes as high as they could, also simultaneously, like the Massai warriors of Kenya. I thought that was a good show for me right before my keen eyes. But it was not funny at all,  I pity them  as they just left in desperation  and walked towards Jones bridge to go back home to La Paz. 
CRYING MEDIA. Four media people, all women, from Manila ( see their pictures here) just went out of the performance area not because they can not take pictures but they can not shoot well where they were and  said they find it hard to understand why the public can not see the show. They told me, Masscara or Kalibo Ati-atihan were better in visibility to all the public, rich or poor. And they took   pictures better. Well, for one, how can they take good pictures when the tribes were just walking in disarray after the performance, and I hope only in the Capitol Area? ( They also said why the new Capitol was peppered with all the tarps and it was not longer nice to take picture of the building for their feature. )

DINAGYANG PERFORMANCE FOR THE FEW.  At around 8 am , an hour before the 9 am show, the grandstand in Capitol was still empty of viewers. The opposite side of it, which was the back side of the performers swelled with perhaps over 3,000 people. So by the time the show started, I would say, 10 percent of the audience was at that grandstand and the 90 % at the back—the majority of viewers who did not see anything but frustations. ( I have illustrated this scenario in computer sketches and pictures here.)  Some of the old folks said to me like “ when did Dinagyang become a festival for the judges and depriving the public?”  I agree, it has become a festival to perform to the select few. 
 I suggest in bundles of points the following:

-          DECONGEST the swell of people within the limited performing areas by  spreading the  four long performances into mini quick performances along the route so more people can see. A 5 minutes performance for each mini stop is enough to please the public than for  30 minutes for the chosen few at the grand stands. The Dinagyang tribes can do so many steps in  5 minutes and the general public will already be happy to see just that. In Carnival Rio de Janiero in Brazil or Bastille in Paris, France, the festival is continuously enjoyed by all along the streets which was Dinagyang in the 70’s.  For example, as if watching a tennis tournament in a continuous manner sideways.   This will allow the tribes to dance continuously,too , and not walk in between performances which was what happened.  Last Sunday, the breaks were like 30 minutes apart each tribe, for what I have observed in that area. 

-          MOBILE JUDGES. The judges should not sit in one location like they were worshipped by the participants. It is just not right for the tribes to impress them and forget the majority of the public. Let us not forget the festival is for the people not for the judges. These judges should move around, incognito. This way the tribes will not reserve only their best dance to the judges, at least only four times in each stop. 

-          OLD FORM. Let the tribes dance on the street like it was in the 70’s , e.g.,  the famous snake dance of the Mamao tribe of NN. That was contagious. The public at least can stomp their feet a bit to their formidable energy. Now, the public were all  the long-necked  spectators only. The performances were distanced to our people. Today, the tribes conserve their energy at the performance area and the rest of the time, they walk! Awful.  

-          One commented: “Utod utod man ni man” ( Performances were intermittent). One said: “ Sound of silence”. As there were no drum beats as the tribes just started to play at the judging area conserving their energy to impress the judges and leave the public frustrated. Another said “ Parang Sinulog, hindi na pareho sang una nga sa kalye gid ga perform, subong yah, judges lang maka kita, kita yah nga publico, puro latak na lang bilin.” ( The format now is like Sinulog, unlike before, now all what we see in the public  are like residues.”)
-          MONSTROUS PROPS. We should not use them anymore. At the Capitol Grandstand, all we see were walls of ugly unpainted back walls! Most of them are 2 storey high. All these super structures clog the streets. As a creative person, I do not think a rice field scenario has to be really painted on walls of plywood for people to know there are rice fields in the choreography. That is too elementary. Whoever invented these backdrops deprived almost 70-90% of the viewing public by covering the performance for those who are at the back…mostly poor people who can not afford to buy tickets in the front. Again, the tribes performing only to please the judges.  And mind you, these  walls could span for  15 meters across of blank walls creating fortresses.

-          NO TO HUGE TARPS. All tarps should only be waist level below during the parade. It is frustrating to see a sea of walls of tarps parading and blocking the view. For me it is really trying too hard for these companies. In a split of a second, an audience can understand what a company is advertising anyway. To flood the street with tons of tarps suggested too much garbage  afterwards.

NO TO MOTORIZED VEHICLES. We are in a society known as ” lovers of cars.” Let us not allow those cars, some are huge six wheelers carrying only six useless people while trailing  the dancers.  They only carry lazy people who do not want to walk . These trucks carried few gallons of water –so why let them decongest the streets further? They should all be banned because they emit fumes to children and adults alike, mostly sitting on the roadside. The running cars in full stop  emits more toxic carbon monoxide. I saw one car unmindful of pumping his gas while his “ tambotcho”  faced the sitting children. I told him to stop his engine. If he did not, the kids would have died in 20 minutes! Our festival should consider our city drive for  environmental resiliency.

-          ZONING. I suggest on the strip of the festival route, should have  zones for: senior citizens, children with mothers ( like boarding in airplanes), physically disabled, most specially the urban and rural poor who travelled far just to see the festival. Also “incentive viewing decks” to foreign tourists, at least for some good 15 minutes in rotation to take good pictures.  This can be color coded along the street. I illustrated this here.

-          SOCIALIZED PRICES. We all understand the city has also to be self-sustainable with some sources of income to run the festival. I think it is best to have socialized rates for affordable tickets for the poor or middle class Ilonggos. Meaning, price breakdown with range of prices from low to high end depending on the purchasing power of the person. And does our senior citizens get the discount, too? Group rates? Student discount? Sponsorship to poor public school children?

-          LOGISTICAL FLOW I would suggest that one part of the street is the long stretch of performing area and  the other side, for the public viewing, again to spread the congestion in the performing areas. The latter can be zoned into, front row for  public bringing their own stool/ and or children,  next row, may be some nice bamboo poles as seats for those without own chairs to sit on, next for the standing ones. Then, walking path and exits ( in case of stampedes) and last row for  scaffolds ( which can be given to the hawkers to erect but will be paying taxes as they can be legalized.)  Ergo, from the Grandstand to the last stop, the spread of people who can see the show will be dramatically higher. I have illustrated this here.

VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL ZONING. All performance streets should be along the vertical street, from origin to last stop. All vendors and food stalls are horizontal streets. Example, vertical is JM Basa Street, horizontal is Aldeguer St.,Vertical is Iznart St, horizontal is Ortiz St. No vendors are allowed along the vertical streets so it will open up the space to the viewing public  and the stalls will not displace people’s space for viewing.

UTOD –UTOD. ( Broken line of performances). I suggest the Kasadyahan and Dinagyang Festival be rolled into one. There were only 11 Dinagayang tribes, if I am correct, and may be thinning in the next years to come if we are not careful. This way too, the parade and performance is non-stop like the way it was in the past. The most frustrating  comments was “ Amo lang to?” ( That was it?). Yes, because the rythmn of the drums was sporadic, too. The gaps in between tribes were  too long. Meantime, I feel, one consolidated show can draw in  higher impact  with  the two combined together. 

FESTIVAL DIRECTORY. I think this is what was missing. Instead of the propaganda tarps with all photoshopped faces of whose who, we should have had a “You are here” directory. It should indicate where, when and how abouts of the festival  through simple street maps and information.  Schedules too. All put in strategic places.

INFORMATION KIOSKS. Like the directory, this one you can talk to someone. It should be in an identifiable color or stand design so it has some aesthetic sense and recognition. I was asked by  several tourists about information, but not all I was able to answer.  But they do not know where to go and ask. I don’t know, too. 

TOO MUCH MEN IN UNIFORM. A tourist did not like what she saw. She told me if she has to take a picture and bring this picture back home, it will appear like Ilonggos are not disciplined as we need men in uniform to police us. True. Or was there a coup d’etat? We need only crowd controller not men in uniform.

 I remember, I used to help cordon off the festival as schools sent their ROTC cadettes in their white tshirt and denim. It worked. I think our military men can also wear something festive than “too military looking” as if they were going to war in such an occasion. If not, they should be behind the crowd and not in front. The only problem is really, all converged to the performance stands, so everyone push one another in such a small area, so they have to be policed. If there was a spread it would not happened this way.  Let us restrain the use of too much  military presence  in our festival. Let us  show to the world that Ilonggos are disciplined and we do not need the cordon and military to police us in our town own festival! It is not very Filipino. Our fiestas are seamless groups of  people enjoying each others company. 

PUBLIC BUILDINGS. These are owned by the people and  should be used by the public ( with some limitations), say, viewing area. The old  Provincial Capitol was made into a fortress by covering it with  cold steel sheets all the way to the last parameter edge of the streets when I thought a 1 meter stretch could have helped unclog people.The fortress was sending an image saying, people should stay away from our public spaces our people own! Well, the old Capitol area is under repair we all understand that it is in a delicate situation since we are restoring a heritage  building, but that should have been written there for those who do not know, for tourists especially. Ergo,  some folks do not understand, saying why they closed the area , at least  part of in front, so people can still sit there and watch.

STRESSFUL. For me it was stressful a festival because of what I saw backstage. I don’t know about the front stage but I am sure it was lovely--as usual. Otherwise, I may have been wrong and I can be corrected. This way I will be less stressed knowing all these happened only in the Capitol Area while the rest was ok. Thank you.

MY  APPRECIATION . The only picture of the tribes I took was those of the real Atis from Barotac Viejo on their way out after their dance. I took few pictures of them not because I am now helping them with the “nito” weaving livelihood through our Department of Trade and Industry  but because they  were in  authentic costumes in patadyong and grasses. Loved what I saw. Authentic I must say. And…most of all they were smiling! As a keeper of our heritage, I thought, we should all go back to the real culture of the Ati. They are not warriors as most tribes depict during the festival. They are upland people who are hunting for animals or gather wild plants to sell.  They do not wear colorful costumes and  feathers on their hair. Much more their name is not after an African tribe. They do not dance like the Africans, too. I thought we should be stand corrected before the next generation’s history is not distorted by precedence of man’s own fantasy over what is  reality.