FESTIVAL OF ALL

When we invited eight tourism officers from the different Municipalities of Benguet to judge in our drum and lyre, mini-float, and street dancing competition, most of them marvel on how our local government manages our ambitious festivities. We are not really pulling our leg here, but certainly, celebrating a month-long Strawberry Festival with up to thirty events is physically and mentally demanding, especially to the hardworking people behind the scenes. “We are blessed with responsible employees and volunteers…and of course, participative barangays!” I responded with pride.

Sure, we have yet to perfect events-organizing. Anyone who would say organizing is easy, have not tried his or her hand on it. And, considering that the committees are purely mobilized by employees who have their own 8 to 5 duties, we can always find comfort on the thought that despite the limited funding, manpower, and time, our local government personnel stays true to its oath of public service.

We grew up actively participating in the Strawberry Festival, from being a little boy in the parades, an eager spectator during the 2004 Guinness record Strawberry short cake, up to competing in the Fiesta’s artistic and musical events. Somehow, the memories can become unreal especially so because the Municipal building, including the gymnasium and the park has not changed much since I was a kid. I had my first poster making contest at Lednicky hall when I was twelve, our first concerts every Sunday were at the Municipal park/stage as highschool teens, and of course, most memories of our inter-barangay battle of the bands, and basketball leagues have already been etched in the corners of our Municipal gym.

One thing that many people observe during the past events, however, is the evident need for a wider space to accommodate not only the enthusiastic community, but also the curious tourists who also wish to revel with us in our celebration. Some of the tourism council members suggested the holding of the next festival at the Benguet Sports Complex, or maybe at the Benguet State University sports field. The Strawberry Festival Executive Committee, composed of our Mayor, Vice Mayor, and our Councilors will definitely discuss the said proposals’ feasibility during this Festival’s post evaluation meetings. Yes, we have sentimental connection to our Municipal structures, but perhaps our growing festival needs a bigger place to allow for healthy growth.

This issue reminded me of a foreign tourism student who I toured around the valley months ago. After dinner, he said: “You have a challenging job; you cannot fully invite many visitors for fear of heavy traffic and community backlash, yet your primary job is tourism promotions.” I can only nod in agreement. Tourism is a very complicated issue that necessitates the best attention.

The Strawberry Festival, beyond being a tourism event, is more importantly a community event that requires the community’s active participation. The local government only facilitates the celebration but the stars remain to be the people of the community who gather and celebrate the fruits and gains of the town. That is what we wish to sustain in this festival, and the upcoming festivals in the future. After all, it is not just the festival of one, but the festival of all.- Valred Olsim

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