by Julius Mariveles and Hannah Papasin
HIMAMAYLAN CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – In between the tiempo suerte and the tiempo muerto, as the season in the country’s sugarcane-producing capital of the country slips into the dead season – when the harvest and milling season ends (suerte or tiempo galing) and when work stops as everyone waits for the canes to grow (muerto or dead season, also known as tigkiriwi) people take a pause here to glorify the heavens for the good harvest and to say thanks despite the misfortunes.
And misfortunes have been aplenty for the past two years – from a pandemic that lasted for almost three years to a devastating storm – before the festival returned to the streets.
Here, in this third-class city, Raymund Tongson, the young chief executive dreams big for the Himaya Festival, one of the 32 local fiestas among the towns and cities in this province of more than a million people.
“I want it to be known as the most vibrant and the most fun festival in the province,” Tongson, now on his second term, tells DNX on the last day of the fiesta yesterday, 31 March 2023, the highlight of the celebration since 14 March.
Raymund led the Araw ng Parangal the other day at the Himamaylan City Government Center to honor elderly residents of the city, two of them centenarians – Eufronia Meñeza, 102 and Gorgonio Alonsagay, 105.
Outside, farmers displayed their fresh produce and processed meat products – some featuring newly-developed recipes like siomai or Chinese dumpling made with banana blossom.
Theoughout the week, City Hall had lined up a series of events, from dances to live performances of bands from Bacolod and other provinces, aside from showcasing agricultural produce of farmers, who make uo the majority of this city’s productive force.
Not far from City Hall, in the village of Talaban, Neneng Tilde tends to their home, a small roadside hut pieced together from pieces of salvaged wood and tin sheets.
Two years ago, that hut was almost destroyed as Category 4 winds barrelled through here and the province’s southrrn corridor when the storm Odette made landfall.
Neneng and her family huddled for almost six hours since midnight inside the sidecar of their tricycle at a nearby church as the storm lashed about.
Neneng is thankful that the local government did not leave them alone after the storm even as they continue to rebuild their lives after the storm.
At the Batang Peninsula, a beach resort, its owner, Marilou Meñez, says she considers the storm a gift even if it left thousands in damages to her business.
“I learned the value of things and what to value more than others,” Marilou tells DNX.
Narlyn Hechanova and Analiza Granada, on the other hand, sold native delicacies and refreshments outside the City Hall during the fiesta.
Narlyn says she is thankful her children were able to go to school usung her earnings from selling ginamos or shrimp paste.
Analiza, on the other hand, said she is grateful to Tongson for allowing her to sell refreshments during the fiesta.
It can help her feed her seven children, she said.
The beat of the bamboo musical instruments and the streetdances may have already died down yesterday but Mayor Tongson, known more for his initials, MRT, is looking forward to a better Himaya Festival.
He hopes that it would draw more tourists, foreign and domestic alike, and would send the message that this city, once a dusty stopover to its bigger sister, Kabankalan, is a place worth visiting.
“I am hoping that making the Himaya Festival the best fiesta in the province would be among the legacies I will leave behind,” Tongson tells DNX.
That dream might be big but Tongson has a lot of time left- two more years in his current term and three more years if he wins a fresh one in 2025.
In the meantime, MRT and people in this city pause to give thanks.