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Showbiz & history in Daragang Magayon Festival

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda in pre-Hispanic costume for Daragang Magayon Festival

MANILA, Philippines - Albay turned 439 years last April 3 and the images on the opening week of the Daragang Magayon Festival are largely more showbiz than history and with the sacred and the profane sharing fairly good media notices.

Teenage heartthrob Daniel Padilla elicited screams and caused pandemonium at the Albay Astrodome, the once and still durable sex symbols Aya Medel and Rachel Lobangco did unique versions of fire dance, there was ample supply of fairly young flesh in the Ginoong Albay and  Binibining Daragang Magayon tilt and once more with feeling, Albay’s myths and its full quota of supernatural heroes and villains got more exposure than historical recollection.

Causing a mild tempest in the Albay teacup is the image of the mythical Tambaloslos causing uproar because of its oversized phallus. The Diocese of Legazpi insisted that it was not only an erroneous interpretation of a mythical character but the image also offends basic norms of decency not fit for public viewing.

Deplored the Legazpi Diocese: “On Easter Monday, it seems the lessons and piety of the Holy Week and Easter Sunday has been conveniently set aside in Albay in exchange for lewd and shallow entertainment.”

Gov. Salceda said on Facebook he would have acted accordingly had he received the religious objection early. But the governor probably dropped a historical bomb when he said the image of the mythic Tambaloslos was based on a description of the friar in the book, The Brief Account of Beliefs, Legends, Superstitions and Religion of the Ancient Indios of Bicol by Fray Jose Castaño published in 1885 in Madrid, Spain.

The truth is the festival has a Saint Pedro Calungsod Day with special events for the young.

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Actors Ronnie Lazaro and Nonie Buencamino recited Bicol verses known as dalits at Peñaranda Park.

But there is no doubt that the festival is catching national attention and this is probably one of the reasons for the reported 43 percent increase in tourist arrival in Albay.

The Oriental Hotel lobby is bursting with visitors looking at Bicol products in a well-organized trade fair. A bit of Albay’s historic past and culinary glory are reflected in the elegant Cena Una Restaurant in Daraga town where, according to the book War At The Time by Clarence Lininger, the town has an opera house damaged by the Filipino-American war in Albay.

In the same book, Lininger recounted the first time Americans from Washington D.C. first saw Mayon Volcano.

“What’s that?” gasped the gentleman from Washington awed by the miracle vision. “Oh, that’s Mayon,” said the other. “Most beautiful volcano in the world. Hemp all around it and well up its sides. Great possibilities, Mayon.”

“Indeed?” said the Washingtonian shortly; he became preoccupied and distant for the rest of the trip. Upon his return to Washington he introduced a resolution in Congress calling for an investigation of the acquisition of Philippine lands and other properties by American officials in the islands.

With the beauty of Mayon, there must have been frantic American effort to buy all the lands around the volcano and it was pure coincidence that Mayon rhymed with the American obsession to treat the volcano as “My (their) own.”

As to why the province changed its foundation day from May 14, 1834 to April 3, 1574, Gov. Salceda shared his historical findings, thus: “As many Albayanos know, May 14, 1834 was the day that Jose Maria Peñaranda became governor of Albay. He was an outstanding leader and Albay is what it is now largely because of his contributions. However, it was pointed out by one of the most prominent historians of Bikol, Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona, that there is a more appropriate date to celebrate the birth of Albay.”

He cited a document in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain that clearly states that on April 3, 1574, the Spanish Governor-General Guido de Lavezares assigned to a certain Juan Guerra many villages in this area as encomiendas or “entrusted villages.”

According to Gerona, “As encomienda villages, they paved the way for the rise of municipalities which served as the structural base upon which the Spanish colonial regime in the province took root.”

Thus, the governor concluded that the immensely valuable document provides the indisputable proof of Albay’s entrance into the Spanish imperial chart.” While the document does not officially refer to the foundation of Albay, it nevertheless should be considered as an important date in Albay history… as the rightful date to celebrate Albay Day.” 

With a land area of a mere 2,554.06 square kilometers, the province is — according to statisticians — the country’s 26th smallest but it has obviously been blessed with local leaders looking at the future not just for its own provincial territory but for the entire region as well.

So what is the big deal about knowing that Albay was born in 1574, or 439 years ago?

Said the governor whose province was declared the best tourism destination in the recently-held world tourism exposition in Berlin: “I believe it is important because it is a milestone in our long and tortuous trek towards progress and the betterment of our lives. It is important to know where we came from and where we are now, so that we could chart our way ahead.”

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