Undeterred by the threat of the deadly novel coronavirus or COVID-19, this year's Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon, scheduled on May 15 will push through.
Lucban Mayor Celso Olivier T. Dator said that this year, the town will once again try to establish a new record in terms of tourist arrivals during what is considered the country's most colorful harvest festival.
"Yes, we will celebrate this year's Pahiyas Festival," said Dator in an exclusive interview with the Standard.
The event makes Lucban the festival capital of the Philippines, the mayor said, because it marks the harvest of the crops that farmers raised during the year just passed.
With 7.2 million tourists, per tourism department count, attending the 2019 Pahiyas Festival, Dator said the celebration last year chalked up the biggest attendance so far.
Dator said that while local officials do not downplay the threat of the virus currently disrupting the world, he is optimistic this year's Pahiyas will be as successful as last year, if not better.
But he admitted Covid-19 poses a great challenge to the successful staging of this year's Pahiyas.
“This 2020 Pahiyas Festival, we will try to make history again by surpassing the number of tourists last year," Dator said, citing the importance of tourism in his province to uplift the lives of his people.
He said it is business as usual in his town of 59,892 despite the virus hysteria, although they have done their best to augment the efforts of the national government in handling the global threat.
Hand sanitizers have been provided by the local government to all government buildings and offices, and it encouraged business establishments to do the same, Dator added. The town also gave away face masks to personnel in the frontline of health services.
However, he said the townspeople have not been restricted from visiting government offices to ask for help or for business transactions.
“We have no tents outside the town hall. Thus, we still expect the celebration to be noisy, colorful and happy, he added.
Dator said Lucban is an agri-tourism town. "We encourage people to invest in agriculture because of its importance in developing the town,” he said.
That’s why during Pahiyas Festival, the Lucban townfolk decorates their houses with fruits, vegetables and colorful “kiping”, a leaf-shaped wafer made of rice and dyed with food coloring. that were taken or made from their harvest.
The word “pahiyas” is derived from “payas,” which means 'to decorate' in Tagalog.
Dator recalled that the festival was rooted from the practice in the 15th century, when farmers offered their harvests at the foot of Mount Banahaw, believing it to be a god.
Later on, the people offered their farm produce at the church in honor of the town’s patron saint, St. Isidore the Worker, the patron saint of farmers, laborers, and other workers.
People decorated their houses with colorful farm produce when the church could no longer accommodate their offerings, and it became a tradition that priests would just go around the community to bless their harvests in their houses, as a symbol of thanksgiving and continued prayers for more abundant harvests to come, and to ward off misfortune.
Dator said Lucban is currently developing the eco-cultural heritage zone located on Kalye Hermano Pule, the “Eight Wonderfalls of Lucban,” as well as the Korean-financed cable car system.
Lucban is also famous for the Kamay ni Hesus Shrine -- a pilgrimage destination known for its miraculous healing masses, the mayor said. This church has a replica of Noah's Ark.
Dator also claimed the town was the first to practice the zero-plastic policy, and that its people religiously observed waste segregation.
Given all these efforts, Dator said the town aims to be one of the major tourist hotspots soon.