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May 25, 2011


Not even the rain was able to stop Albayanos in witnessing the revelry in their midst enlivened by the sounds of makeshift drums, a spectacle made more engaging by the sight of colorfully-clad and serotonine-charged dance groups from around the Bicol region in the “9th Gayon Bicol Festival of Festivals.” This annual Bicolandia activity hosted for the third time by Legazpi City, Albay perfectly capped the month-long celebration of the 15th Magayon Festival in April, spearheaded by the Department of Tourism Region V and the provincial government of Albay under Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda.

Legazpi, named after the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, need not dazzle tourists with such a streetdance festival, owing to the already majestic beauty of Mayon Volcano blessing this area of the country with a postcard-perfect backdrop anywhere one turns. But anyone seeing the Mayon Volcano for the first time would be awed, and feel a palpable gratefulness at the same time to be face to face with such a thing of both belligerence and beauty. And, “Magayon Festival,” at least for this writer, would not have celebrated anything else other than Mayon’s beauty, and everything else it inspires.

As writer Kerima Polotan observes in her book “Adventures in a Forgotten Country,” Legazpi City “sits solidly with its abaca, its copra, its rice, always in the benignity of the volcano,” and its people as surely into work but “never to the point of a nervous breakdown,” and whose happiness is “a dish of pork and gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk, hot with pepper.” It is precisely this Albayanos’ way of life, which is at the heart of the celebration of the annual Magayon Festival, along with the local’s gratefulness for the volcano’s beauty (around which the legend of “daragang magayon” or beautiful maiden was spun), and the resulting fertile land that has ensured its people a bountiful harvest, typhoons notwithstanding.

The month-long festivity was formally opened by Gov. Salceda on April 1 at the Peñaranda Park highlighted by a fireworks display called “Silyab sa Magayon,”and capped by a concert at the Albay Astrodome titled “Concierto sa Magayon” featuring comic host Ate Shawie, and the Manila-based band 6 Cycle Mind. In between were held activities such as agricultural products display and trade fairs, cooking shows, street parades, photo/arts exhibits, sports events.

Vice Governor Harold Imperial, speaking on behalf of Gov. Salceda who was abroad for an official business, said that they have allotted P20M for the Magayon Festival 2011, with daily events bolstered by partnerships with different groups. Even the Lent break had become an opportunity to hold activities such as “Himig Semana Santa,” “Senakulo at Peñaranda Park,” “Pabasa,” “Siete Palabras,” and “Visita Iglesia @ Albay Cathedral.”

Invited national media came at the heel of the closing activities, with three huge crowd-drawers that proved to be the fitting climax to the Magayon Festival 2011, namely: the Mutya ng Magayon pageant night, the “9th Gayon Bicol Festival of Festivals Showdown,” and the 2011 Magayon Mr. & Ms. Bikini Fashionista.

Magayon’s New Mutya
In recent years, it had become obvious that the lasses that had been consistently clinching the country’s national beauty titles were coming from the Bicol region. Albay’s significant share of these crowned beauties of the country had been wonderfully reiterated when it paraded on stage during the “Mutya ng Magayon Festival” at the Albay Astrodome its homegrown beauties, namely: 1999 Miss Universe First Runner Miriam Quiambao, whose parents are from Oas, and Bacacay; 2005 Miss International Precious Lara Quigaman, whose father is from Ligao; and most recently 2011 Bb. Pilipinas-International Dianne Samar Necio from Polangui, who placed first runner-up to fellow Bicolana Venus Raj in the 2010 Bb. Pilipinas pageant. Judges for that night included Ino Sotto, Isko Moreno, Dolly Ann Carvajal, and Miriam Quiambao, among others.

At the end of the night, the festival had proclaimed its new Mutya in the person of Roxanne Joy Jesalva, an 18 year old student from Burabod, Sorsogon City. Early on in the pageant, Jesalva, had clinched only one special prize, which was the “Ms. Mendez Medical Group,” but showed enough brains and poise to answer the question: “What is the greatest good you can do for your neighbor?” Her answer was succinct without the unnecessary statements that could elicit double knee-jerk reactions and a rolling of eyes among the crowd, zeroing in on her core thought of “loving one’s neighbor.” The host even commented on Jesalva being a spitting image of 2011 Bb. Pilipinas-International Dianne Samar Necio. Albay’s own beauties did hold their own against the other contenders with three of them completing Jesalva’s court: first runner up Kayesha Chua from Daraga, second runner up Angelica Corbe of Legazpi City, and Miss Tourism Anna Dolores Rolda of Tabaco City.

Legazpi’s streets come alive
The “9th Gayon Bicol Festival of Festivals Showdown” as a streetdance extravaganza and dance showdown, explains DoT- V Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla, was an idea hatched in 2003, which brings together major festivals across the Bicolandia to showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage, and diverse natural wonders and lores.

The intermittent drizzle had not dampened a bit the energy of the participating contingents in showing off their dance festivals: Sorsogon City’s “Sosogon;” Magarao, Camarines Sur’s “Voyadores;” Pili, Camarines Sur’s “Cimarrones;” Bato, Catanduanes’ “Sibubog;” Pilar, Sorsogon’s “Parau;” Placer, Masbate’s “Himag-ulaw;” and Daet, Camarines Norte “Pinyasan.” Albay fielded their own pride: the Ibalong Festival of Legazpi City (represented by Pio Duran town), Pulang Anggi of Polangui, and Tabak Festival of Tabaco City, all re-telling the local legends.

The crowd even witnessed the non-competing performances from the Legend of Mayon contest winning group, along with the Magayon Dancers (both from Albay), and the rousing barn dance by the delegation of Masbate City, with all the cowboy hats from this last group being thrown at the end of the performance to the surprised crowd.

The judges were composed, among others, of DoT Asec. Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III (who welcomed the contingents along with Senator Chiz Escudero), Vice Governor Imperial, DoT-V Regional Director Ong-Ravanilla, and DoT-VIII Regional Director Karen Tiopes, and it seemed would have the hardest time judging. But at the end of the night, aside from the brilliantly executed choreography, it was the spot-on, wide-mouthed smiles of the participating children from Placer, Masbate that won the judges over with its performance of the dance for its “Tribu Himag-ulaw Festival.” This was the same performance that had won for the group the grand prize in the recently-held Sinulog 2011, which made this second win much sweeter. Sorsogon City’s “Sosogon Festival” was adjudged first runner-up, while Daet, Camarines Sur’s “Pinyasan Festival” came in third place.

Expectedly, the jubilation spilled over even after the announcement of the winners, and yes, with the happy fireworks grazing the night sky like a thousand more smiles.

Yes, the night sizzles on
And just when one thought one no longer has the energy after such a spectacle and swirl of costumes and movements on the streets, one picks up enough Bicolano zest for gaiety to see the Magayon Mr. & Ms. Bikini 2011 Fashionista. This contest had not been limited to the Bicol region but was opened to national candidates, and hence the competition did hold much attraction for the locals who filled the seats in Albay Astrodome as early as 7pm. There was the great opening production at the start of the show with all the 30 candidates (15 finalists for both male and female) in formal wear rousing up the crowd. The next number saw these candidates introducing themselves in their trunks and bikinis, which heated up the night. The one marked difference in this type of contest is the inclusion of a “fashion scene” into the program where the candidates modeled on stage haute couture swimwear creations of local fashion designers. The crowd did rise up to its feet during the “face off” number where the candidates show off their sexiest and hunkiest moves on stage. At the end of the night, the judges presented to the crowd Raymond Alvero of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and Andrea Del Rio of Pasig City as 2011 Magayon’s Mr. & Ms. Bikini Fashionista.

Leaving Legazpi the next day, one realizes with certainty that one is bound to come back, one’s visual memories made more richer by the food that venturesome visitors to this place are almost always rewarded with: the spicy ice cream from 1st Colonial Grill restaurant in Legazpi, the heavenly “pinangat” from Camalig, or Ligao’s Macapuno rice puto, and the list goes on.

Stepping into the airplane, and catching one last look of the Mayon volcano, one turns grateful for having known, at last, the “magayon” that has always awaited in Albay.

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*This article was first published and printed in the May 22, 2011 issue of The Manila Bulletin.