October 17, 2004

The Sea of Smiles

Today I watched the Masskara Festival on Channel 23 for an hour before my infernal friend texted me that she needed me to meet her at Robinson's the soonest so that she can have her dinner- a dinner at 4:30 p.m. Who the hell eats dinner that early? Eskimos? Though I promised her that we'll enjoy a nice meal together after dusk, I wasn't counting on the fact that her colon which breeds eight species of anacondas would demand to be fed at that very moment. And so I missed the rest of the show. Demmit.

Where have all the smiles gone? Posted by Hello

The gist of the festival is this: a mardigras inspired festival full of colorful smiling papier mache masks celebrating man's resilience over adversity and hope against despair. It was borne out of the misery Bacolod was in during 1980 where there were the MV Don Juan disaster, plummeting of world sugar prices, the widespread famine in Negros and the NPA insurgency in the hinterlands. No one really thought that there would be light at the end of the tunnel. But fortunately, some of the artist-friends in Bacolod (like Peque Gallaga and Mayor Bing Leonardia) decided that there should be a celebration to give the people something to hope for even in that time of economic and social desperation. Thus, Masskara came to be.

It's not like one of those run-off-the-mill idol-worshipping, faux-ethnic, historically-unconnected, street parades that characterize every no-name town festival in this archipelago.
Rather, it's a true celebration of life, the living for the moment, to remind us of our strength against overwhelming odds. It is why Masskara continues to be one of the main crowd drawer among Philippine celebrations. It is also why it is the perpetual poster-boy for all tourist brochures and advertisements. It encapsulates the essence of being a Filipino: "full of life."

What Masskara means is fun, fun, fun. At the event itself, it means eating all those Chicken Inasals at Manokan Country, watching the parade, watching the people you know, mingling with the natural odors of everyone, watching those COD-like floats pass by, watch how stupid the contestants are in the Q&A portion of the Miss Masskara pageant, or going to the "perya-han" in slippers with it's leaning Ferris wheel and small-time gambling tents. After soaking up the culture, we usually end up meeting up with long lost high school barkada, going to bars all night long, getting drunk till dawn at a bar in the middle of a sugarcane field, food tripping from Dampa-like Pala-pala to nostalgic Bob's, joy riding through the city, and much more. Ahhh, the memories.

And this whole shebang is something the whole country must take notice. Why? We must emulate what the Negrenses have been doing for the past 25 years, and that is taking every adversity with a smile. It is not merely sugar-coating reality or being deluded to a fool's paradise, but rather this Masskara shows us that we can choose not to be pulled down by the heavy weight of the current problems besetting our nation today. We cannot afford to lose our compass and our senses just because our economy is teetering to the brink of an Argentina-like disaster. We must still find the goodness in living and celebrate it with a festival like no other. What this gives us is optimism that there is hope for our country and countrymen.

Look at Negros 25 years since Masskara was first held. Just by looking how well the province has grown and developed, it's no wonder why people still celebrate Masskara full of pride and fervor. Like a Phoenix, it has risen from the ashes and will continue to fly high towards greater glory.

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