Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sinukwan Festival 2007

Have you heard about it before? Well, if you say “no”, that would be fair enough. This is a lesser known festival as of yet but slowly gaining a following from festival watchers. Fact is, I separately asked four of my workmates who hail from the province of Pampanga, and all of them reverted with “what is that?”, is that Kapampangan?”. These four souls come from Guagua (goes to her home once a month); from Angeles (goes home every weekend); from Arayat (goes home every week) and; from the city of San Fernando (drives from his home there to our office in Makati everyday)! Gosh!


How did I know about this festival? I came across it on the Wow Philippines website while browsing along for festivals and events in December.

Where is it celebrated? Just over near the end of the NLEX at San Fernando, Pampanga – an hour away from the metropolis. This year, the 10th of such a celebration was held at the Robinsons Starmills Mall – just by the side of the NLEX and across SM City Pampanga.

What is it really? It’s a dance festival (just like and patterned after your famous Sinulog) performed to the tune of “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” - an old and legendary Kapampangan children’s song.

What is the festival for? It is supposedly to celebrate and showcase the Pampango culture as part of the many activities in the province towards their “Aldo Ning Kapampangan” (Day of the Kapampangans) – the province’s foundation anniversary. This year (2007) it is celebrating the 436th! Whoa!

How did I go there? Just like the many times I went to San Fernando, I took a bus from EDSA that was bound for Western Luzon. This time I chanced upon my favorite Victory Liner (cost P70) that was bound for Olongapo City. For those who don’t know yet, you may of course hop on any of the buses going to Bataan and/or Zambales. There are even vans from EDSA to San Fernando but I don’t dare recommend! You can read more about this at my 2006 Giant Lantern Festival entry also on this blog. Oh, on this trip, I was the last passenger that this Victory Liner Bus ever picked until it reached San Fernando! Why? Because it was already full! Both driver and conductor even had to ask me if it was okay for me to sit on a plank of wood near the driver before they took me in. I appreciated that! I readily recognized that these two good guys (driver and conductor) are part of the very few who care for their passengers – that is: by not asking people to ride the entire length of EDSA and NLEX just standing on the aisle of a bus but paying the same exact fare that the other comfortably-seated passengers paid. I salute them, the crew of Victory Liner Bus No. 6037, 08DEC2007!

At the Sinukwan Festival 2007
The Robinsons Starmills was unusually bustling at a little past 2PM of a Saturday! I surmised it must have been because of the festival. On entry, aside from the Dora promotional sale, there was a photo exhibit on pictures taken by some photogs abut the Sinukwan Festival. This was just a few inches away from the information counter of the mall, so I went there. Me: “miss ano ba mga events in your mall today?”, Miss: “good afternoon sir, the Sinukwan Festival is just about to start”, Me: “saan yun?”, Miss: “just go straight to that corner with Filipiniana dresses, then turn left to Arayat. You won’t miss it, sir”! Hmm, I thought that girl was just an apprentice but she spoke perfect English that would readily be understood by foreigners. Even the hand gestures and the facial expression did not show that she was conversing with me via a “spiel”! I salute her too!

After thanking the information counter girl, my steps hastened and I caught myself at it! And I teased my royal self saying in my mind… “exxxxciiiiteeeed” as I usually do hehe! I could already see some of the performers and their props lined and facing towards where the festival was taking place. The crowd was getting thicker as I moved on. Quickly turned left and…

I was all of a sudden in a sea of humanity which was moving quite slow (hey, I was excited, okay?) I was tempted to push people who got in my way! But I managed to keep my patience intact and slowly flowed with the crowd until I reached the festival area where some kind of a “guest speaker” was delivering his message. Oh my goodness! This two-liner flow of slow moving people were at the back of the make-shift stage where the speakers, judges, guests and some local beauty contestants were honorably seated! I thought this place must have been a good vantage point since the performers should be facing this way!

I stopped moving with the slowly-walking mall visitors and instead stood still by the barricades and started watching the “show”. There was no show yet hehe, the guest speaker was still at his message. I was not listening to the message since I couldn’t understand it anyway (it was a mixture of English and Kapampangan) so I concentrated on how/where to position myself for a clearer vantage of the show that was about to unfold! Part of the make-shift barricade (everything here was makeshift anyway) was a long table instead of the usual steel fences. But inches above the table were plastic ropes tied to both ends of the steel barricades on each side of the table. Clearly the message was, “hey onlooker and mere audience, you cannot go beyond this point”! But I saw a mother raise her child over the ropes so that the kid was on the cordoned-off area which was like a stage.

You guessed it! Next thing the heavens knew I was already standing on the platform that was a mini-stage just behind and above the guests, judges and those beauty contestants! When I climbed over the table, at least two or three people from inside the off-limits area did look at me but did not apprehend me! And just as exactly, the first contingent was being called to perform! This was elementary school level.

Hmm, that first performance was a bit surprising to me and I was more than delighted. Well prepared, well choreographed, and very well executed by children, the smallest of which was probably just taller than my knee-level! There was dance, acrobatics, formations and constant running with props! I suddenly thought “how come this festival is not as well advertised as the Sinulog”. My mind raced to recall the Sinulog Sa Kabataan, the Masskara’s School Category, the Dinagyang’s Bulilit Competition and the Panagbenga’s Elementary Category. These children’s spectacle at the Sinukwan were not too far in terms of concept and performance. Well, they’ve been doing it for 10 years so they better be good now!

As the performances each unfolded, I kept constantly looking at the surroundings and oh my golly, this mall was packed to unbelievable excesses! The circular activity area of the mall was tightly crowded ground to 2nd floor!

My Notes
The Sinukwan Festival 2007 was a very good spectacle, it was worth my time and effort from the metropolis! Jampacked as it was though, I think it needs more national or international coverage to attract more viewers as indeed it is a fine cultural.

I liked the meaning or the purpose of the performances – to remind us of our cultural past. As tiny a topic as having lost a ring can convey that message if only to remind us that we have a very rich cultural heritage.

The music was/is very well prepared! It is a combination of the plain folk music Atin Cu Pung Singsing and rhythmic touches of heavy percussions mostly noted in the Sinulog’s tempo! The composition and arrangement really punches the word “fiesta” into your senses. Hey the song is lonely in itself (the singer lost a treasure – the ring) but the total effect of the music is festive and celebratory!

Costumes and props are great. Some must be expensive but not extravagant. I like their use of recycled and natural things (like dried leaves on headgears).

Mar Roxas was a prominent guest but this time he was not the “celebrated”. He was just there to grace the occasion. Was he the guest of honor? Am not sure I was too late for it. Was Korina around? Am not sure, I did not bother to check.

The beloved new governor of a priest was on the stage and even kept constantly moving! Was it to help the kids prepare for their performances? Was it to give them more encouragement? Am not sure too, even if he happened to have passed-by inches of me. And he was all over the place without a platoon of bodyguards following him. He was just himself and a woman who seemed to be an organizer. Well, everyone knows this priest is beloved not only in his province, so he won’t need bodyguards. I wonder what those discolorations on his skin are.

Oh the board of judges was a litany of talent and honor! They were experts from all over the country with credentials of national (even international) stature!

This Sinkuwan Festival has to go out into the streets sometime soon. Otherwise it should be held in a bigger stadium. Well, as personally experienced, the advantage of the performances held inside the activity center of a mall was of course the air conditioning. But everyone from organizers to performers and audience must have been silently screaming for more space. Imagine the number of all the elementary and high school students from these participating schools, add-in their parents and family members. Even before outside visitors (like me) arrive to see the performances, the place will already be full. And it was!

This festival’s final judging might as well become a parade or street dance contest like it is done in almost all the other festivals of this country. Why? At least in the parade route, some people will be happy to catch the performances and not anymore bother to go to the central and/or final judging area. That should lessen the crowds. And, at the Starmills, every spectator was standing or tiptoed just to get a clearer view of the performances. Compare that to the judging stations and the streets during the Aliwan Fiesta, the crowds are thinner as those I front could sit. That is because the audience can spread themselves in a very long and wide area and on two sides of a street. Now elevate that to the way the streets are done during the Sinulog and the Dinagyang. Aside from the buildings and houses where many can perch on windows or verandahs, enterprising folks even construct make-shift bleachers where you pay to use them as your vantage point.

I was already on the “stage” at this Sinukwan Festival but I still got tired standing and tiptoeing that I decided to go upstairs and squeeze myself in a thick crowd of students for a better view of the performances. Upstairs at least, many of those kids who got tired standing by the railing would opt to sit by the hallways of the mall so the others (that includes me) could take their places. So sorry nalang sila! And with already that, I didn’t even get to hug the railings where there was a very good vantage view. The crowds were just too thick all over. So let’s go out into the streets next year? Please?!

This was an indoor activity, thus, even at 2PM, ABS-CBN had those very bright spotlights for clarity on camera. But alas, they positioned two sets of Filipiniana costumed annotators, one at the right side of the stage and another at the other end (diagonally across from the first one) of this oval shaped area. This meant some unnatural and nuisance flickers or lights anytime you took a picture or video of the performances. So, let’s go out into the streets next year?

The camera men from ABS-CBN were probably overacting or overzealous to take what they call good shots. Two guys were not just spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of the dances and formations, they were also putting danger to some of the performers. They were just moving too close and inside the performance area that they sometimes block the path of the performers or their wires would get in the way of children dancing and running. Aren’t they satisfied with zooms? I hope to be able to put on this page a sample video where that cameraman and assistant towing the wire were jeopardizing the safety of the performers. They made me nervous! How much more the parents of these children? Try clicking the video below (i hope it works):

Now now… to contradict myself as usual…, though it was piercing my eardrums, the shrieks, shouts and cheers from the classmates of these performers were too nice to hear. It was more pronounced because this was an indoor activity. Those banters and shouts were louder in the confines of this mall – and I thought that added to the excitement of the event and gave additional morale boosters to the performers. So, should the Sinukwan go out into the streets? Ahhh, I still say… yes!

Oh, the organizers may have missed a minor point. They planned, and therefore asked the contingents to enter from the right side of the stage. That did not match with the need and choreography of almost all contingents so that it took time for each group to prepare as the usual “entrance salvo” is facing the stage.

Finally, whoa Sinulog and Dinagyang, watch out for the Sinukwan Festival in coming years! Their props and mechanisms and antics and flying children are getting bigger as yours. Some of the groups now also use those movable platforms made of scaffoldings with wheels. The “stairs with wheels” are also getting common!

I would say, these were just basically children but the craft and skill and talent poured into each of the performances would probably even outdo most if not all of the Panagbenga spectacles! Yes, I think so!

Congratulations to San Fernando and the whole of Pampanga! I am tempted to come back next year!

But, let’s see if I will still have the strength and patience to stand and push myself in a thick crowd inside a mall.

Coming home
It was fun! Took a jeep from SM to Greenwich Pizza near that flyover in the city of San Fernando and snacked on pizzas and pastas. Crossed the street under the bridge and walked westwards to the Victory Liner Bus Station. Didn’t like the “ordinary bus” waiting for passengers and the “airconditioned bus” was bound for Caloocan, so we walked further forward where Bataan Transit buses were also waiting. There was one bound for Cubao and Pasay – which I normally take. But the bus that was going to “Avenida” (costs P68 only) seemed very new and very clean so I hopped on it as I thought I could take the LRT 3 Station from just above their Avenida Terminal and head home towards Katipunan in just a single LRT ride.

This Bataan Transit Bus No. 704 was really spanking clean and very new. Needless to say, it was very clean and tidy even the floors were better than your regular B737 ride! Only two seats to each side and everything was still working – the recliners, the reading lights, the individual air vents, the curtains and the flat-screen TV! Wow! I wished all buses could be like this. It even had the overall smell of a new car (smells like plastic hehe).

The ride was fast and uneventful with a very good sunset view to the right. But I thought the twists and turns of the bus from A. Bonifacio to be able to reach Avenida was an almost unbearable Manila traffic on a Saturday afternoon/evening! It was a good cruise along A. Bonifacio, then a crawl upon turning right into Blumentritt, turned left on Isagani St., which was fine, another left to Tiago St. which was bearable, turning right on Dimasalang was another crawl until we turn right on Aragon St., which was light on to Alfonso Mendoza St., then another crawl along Fugoso St. until we crossed Avenida and turned left to Tomas Mapua St. where some kind of a u-turn to Doroteo Jose was negotiated. This was a very slow crawl until we crossed Avenida again where I got off and climbed the stairs to D. Jose LRT 1 station and walked the “skywalk” to Recto Station of the LRT 3 for the ride to Katipunan. Well on a Saturday evening with nothing to do, I was happier to have passed along those streets instead of the usual getting off at Quezon Avenue on a Cuba or Pasay-bound bus!

This was a nice trip!


  1. actually, sinukwan festival is a very colorful festival of pampanga. however, there is a problem regarding the judges that they are hiring. THEY ARE NOT EXPERT IN JUDGING. THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO JUDGE THE SCHOOLS WHO HAVE THE BEST COSTUMES AND BEST HEADDRESSES

  2. haha.. actually the sinukwan festival also has STREET DANCING.. perhaps you didn't catch that one.. before they will go to the mall or the area of the event.. there will be schools dancing on the streets..