An offering for the largest fresh
By Raul M. Francia
IT WAS a festival like no other.
The faith, tradition, love, warmth, trait, beauty, excellence, brain, talent, skill, craftsmanship, food, harvest, product, the people, their resilience and their joy. These are the province’s showcase. They are the bests and pride of its cities and municipalities.
And the weeklong fun, competition, entertainment, sharing of love and laughter, festivities, celebration and thanksgiving was in grateful appreciation of the bounty of nature—the soil, forests, the air and the country’s largest freshwater lake and the third biggest in Southeast Asia – Laguna de Bay.
Dubbed Handog ng Laguna sa Lawa ng Pag-Asa, the Ani ng Laguna (AniLag) festival was also meant to raise public awareness on the need to protect and preserve the lake, the province’s excellent water resource that is already woven into the fabric of its people’s way of life.
Aside from fishery, aquaculture and recreation, Laguna Lake is a vital component of the Kalayaan hydro-electric power plant that supplies electricity to the Luzon grid. And in the face of worsening vehicular traffic, the 950-square kilometer lake can provide additional routes and alternative means of transportation between Metro Manila and the surrounding towns of Rizal province and Laguna.
Due to its importance to Lagunenses’ life and livelihood, especially those residing along the coastal areas, special focus is being given and extra efforts being put in jointly by the government and the private sector to preserve the lake and shore up its ability to provide for the basic needs of the people in the Laguna de Bay region.
Sadly, however, these efforts have been prompted by alarming damages to Laguna de Bay by rapid industrialization and population growth. Unhampered abuses and excessive activities in the lake are threatening its potentials as vital water resource.
And so, the thanksgiving.
“Very festive! It was an atmosphere of joy throughout the week,” is how Frandy Nodado, a college instructor from the town of Famy, described the week-long AniLag held at the provincial capitol grounds in Sta. Cruz last week. He adds: “Ipinakita po dito ang init, pagmamahal, galling at pagkakaisa ng ating mga kalalawigan” “Lahat ng sector po ay mayroong representation sa pang-aakit hindi lamang sa buong lalawigan, kundi sa buong bansa at sa buong mundo upang bisitahan at makilala ng lubusan ang ating lalawigan,” says the 33-year old 2014 awardee of the Gawad San Luis Namumukod-Tanging Kabataan ng Laguna.
Featured no less are the mouth-watering kinulob na itik of Victoria, the sweet and juicy pineapple of Calauan, the marshmallow-like puto Biñan, the sought-after buko pie of Los Baños, the fine uraro of Liliw, and the incomparably luscious kesong puti of Sta. Cruz. These are only some of the delightful and sumptuous come-ons for both local and foreign tourists to embark on a journey to the virgin and enchanting beauty of the province.
One would also remember falling in love upon taking the banca in the seven lakes of San Pablo, or the thousand thrills of shooting the rapids in Pansanjan, the water rafting in Magdalena, or the lovely still waters of Caliraya lake in Lumban. And who would not make a second, third, fourth or a regular weekend hideaway at any of the hot springs of Calamba, Los Banos and Bay or take a trek at the mystic forests of Mount Makiling or the foot of Mount Banahaw in Majayjay and Luisiana while having a sip or two of the local lambanog to warm the body from the cool and misty atmosphere.
People would come by for the renowned export quality hand-woven barong Tagalog of Lumban, the cheap but durable tsinelas of Liliw, or the wood carvings and papier mache of Paete, and the rattan chairs and hammocks of Sinoloan or the cut-flowers and decorative plants of Bay.
The historical sites and relics are the attractions in Nagcarlan, Magdalena, Rizal, Pila and of course, Calamba. While the turumba of Pakil is known to be the year-long religious fete for the Catholic faithful, tourists would not want to miss the chance of taking the 126 concrete steps to reach the church on a hill in Mabitac town.
And these are only to mention a few.
It was the second year of the Anilag under the administration of Gov. Ramil Hernandez. The celebration took off to a rousing start with a heritage fluvial parade along the vast Laguna de Bay followed by a thanksgiving mass officiated by retired Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. Beauty queens of the province led by 2016 Miss Tourism Queen International Leren Bautista from Los Banos and Mutya ng Pilipinas 2016 Justine Mae “Jaya” San Jose from Pila graced the opening ceremonies.
Speaking before thousands of provincial and municipal officials and residents, the young governor stresses the festival is not only about agricultural products, handicrafts, food, and dry goods but also about the plenitude of the province’s natural wonders and world class tourist destinations.
“Most importantly, this is about Laguna’s human resource—the abundance of unique skills and talents of our people, making each and every one a wealth of our province,” says the 44-year-old Hernandez.
Among the highlights of the festival opening were trade fair, landscape, and body building competitions; awarding for the search for the cleanest and best hotels, resorts, restaurants, and gasoline stations; search for 2017 Laguna Gay Queen, and fireworks display.
There were about 30 colorful and exciting events and competitions that include land float, drum and lyre, dance revolution, the voice of Laguna singing contest, pyro-musical and the Ginoo at Binibining Laguna beauty and talent search, among many others spread over the seven days of the annual event.
Residents were also treated to a magical show from Enchanted Kingdom and a band revolution along with the fun-filled Laguna gay queen contest and the Pinakamagandang Lola ng Laguna quest. Also, there were culinary arts and flair tending, fruits, vegetables and ice carving and watercolor competition.
The street dancing competition was full of life along with the exciting paralympics, palarong Pinoy, car show, dog show, and the tricycle and motorcycle show.
There was a night of pure musical entertainment and songs by groups like Itchy Worms, Rocksteddy, Salbakuta and GraceNote with local stand-up comedians. It was preceded by a short film on the history, struggles, beauty and wealth of the province.
A jobs fair was also held for local jobseekers, and carnival rides were installed a week ahead that completes the festival.
The float parade, participated in by municipalities and cities highlighted the celebration.
Hernandez spiced up the celebration with prizes. Siniloan bagged the first place in the trade fair contest and got P1 million worth of projects from the provincial government and P200,000 in cash, followed by San Pablo City for P500,000 worth of projects and P100,000 in cash rewards, with Mabitac in third for P300,000 in projects and P50,000 cash. Non-winning participating municipalities got P30,000 cash each.
In the most attended street dancing competition, Hernandez gifted Lumban, and the cities of San Pablo and Santa Rosa the same package of rewards, while the land float contest was won by Paete, followed by San Pablo and Rizal.
The week of fiesta may have ended, but the joy and excitement in the hearts of the people of Laguna remain. They will continue to celebrate in thanksgiving as they face the challenge of doing their share in helping preserve the bay of their lives.