Banaag Festival: Iloiloâs dance of lights
Hubon Bulalakaw bagged the champion award at the 14th Banaag Festival held Oct. 31 at the Anilao Covered Gym in Anilao, Iloilo
Banaag Festival: Iloilo’s dance of lights
Charmie Joy Pagulong (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2018 - 12:00am

ANILAO, Iloilo, Philippines — In a small, quiet town of Anilao in the province of Iloilo, there is a local festival that is fast gaining tourist attraction.

Dubbed as the Festival of Lights, the Banaag Festival features the spectacle of lights and colors as a medium to depict the history, life and culture of Anilaonons. 

One of the main activities of the festival is the dance-drama competition wherein various performers from Anilao’s districts would compete, showcasing the town’s rich history and culture.

This year, eight groups participated in the 14th Banaag Festival held Oct. 31 at the Anilao Covered Gym: Hubon Silak, Hubog Cabugwason, Hubon Siga-Siga, Hubon Aninipot, Hubon Daba-Daba, Hibon Karab-Karab, Hubon Bulalakaw and Hubon Iwag.

Clad in colorful costumes with battery-operated lights, competing teams lit up the night with their dazzling performances, highlighting the theme, A Look Back At Our Historical Past, Uplift Anilaonon Culture.

Hubon Bulalakaw shone during the competition and bagged the champion award. The group featured the environmental and conservation efforts of Anilao townsfolk and government in addressing climate change. 

Since its inception, the number of tourists who came to witness Anilao’s cultural fair grew each year, gaining attention from nearby locals as well as regional and international visitors, which eventually earned Best Tourism Event – Municipal Category at the recently-concluded 19th Pearl Awards of the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines-Department of Tourism. 

“It is the only festival in the region that is celebrated during the night. It depicts our culture, our story and oneness as a people. There is a story behind it. It is not just a festival, there is a sustainability because it is anchored in our character and who we are as an Anilaonon,” explained Anilao Vice Mayor Ma. Teresa Debuque on the concept behind the festival of lights. 

Debuque, the former first lady of the town and the founder of the Banaag Festival, said that she wanted to change the image of Anilao and that’s why she initiated such activity 14 years ago.

When her husband, who was elected mayor in 2001, asked her what should they do for their Foundation Day, she came up with the idea of conceptualizing an activity that’s “truly Anilaonon,” something that will “uplift the spirit of the people, unite them and bring back the enthusiasm and involvement of the community.” 

From left: Anilao Vice Mayor Ma. Teresa Debuque, Iloilo 4th District Rep. Ferjenel ‘Dok Ferj’ Biron and Anilao Mayor Nathalie Ann Debuque

She drew inspiration from the history of Anilao in the 1700s when Moro pirates used to attack their town, the locals would climb the “baluarte” and light the torch at night to signify the arrival of the Moros. 

“I wanted to bring back the sense of oneness, sense of community, in protecting one another. The people of Anilao are very loyal and committed. This festival is a venue for us to unite and uplift our image,” she said.

She further cited how the festival made an impact on the lives of many. “The festival played an important role in boosting the morale and image of the people. Anilaonons became involved and actively participated in the affairs of the local government.”

Debuque’s daughter, Anilao Mayor Nathalie Ann Debuque, feted the culminating activity of the month-long celebration of Anilao’s 79th Foundation Anniversary and the 14th Banaag Festival.

“Banaag Festival has evolved not only to showcase our history; it has also evolved to showcase our culture and to reflect the status of our town. It celebrates our hopes and dreams,” the 24-year-old mayor said.

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