The fiesta is not for sale

By Julma M. Narvadez


The increase of economic activities during the Penafrancia Fiesta is public knowledge. This is one of the ways Naga City is special, among all other cities and towns of the Philippines. As the locus of the devotion to Our Lady of Penafrancia, it has the privilege of looking forward to every September when the streets will come alive.


This year, it is also public knowledge that the Naga City Government pushed for the traditional festivities to boost the economy. The devotees coming to the city for the Traslacion Procession was estimated to range from 500 thousand to a million. Nothing draws so many people to Naga than Our Lady. And without the Traslacion and Fluvial Processions, the civic activities in between would not rake in the much needed moolah. Why are there thinly veiled requests for the Miss Bicolandia pageant to be held after the Traslacion? Because in business, timing is everything.


But the Peñafrancia Fiesta is not a business undertaking. It is a celebration of a people in love with Mary. It is not intended to be a mere content for social media nor a production that needs to be staged. Long before the advent of telecommunications, the Peñafrancia Fiesta has been celebrated in ways that touched the hearts of many generations. And long before “events organizing” became a lucrative enterprise, the devotion to Ina had been running through the veins of Bikolanos. But if that is so, why does the call for a safe and solemn fiesta seem to fall on deaf ears? If Naga is a Pilgrim City, why do we have to guard against the commercialization of our fiesta?


These gaps are realities that we choose to ignore because confronting them is to admit our failure. So, we would rather hoot about the throngs of devotees joining the procession or the viral reach of our fb pages or the dedication of tireless volunteers. But if we continue ignoring them, shouts of Viva la Virgen will be replaced by “Viva la Fiesta,” or maybe, even by “Naga Na, Viva!” Processions will become tourist attractions where barefooted voyadores are pitted against security personnel in their combat boots. And September will be a month-long feast that pleases the flesh but starves the soul.


Don’t get me wrong, I agree that cash is necessary for an orderly celebration. There is no question about that. But how the cash is amassed is a different matter. How can we keep the fiesta sacred if we promote vice instead of virtue? If we exploit the fiesta for propaganda and political gain? If every activity has a price tag?


The bigger the crowd, the higher the price. As the media exposure increases, the asking price also increases. How are tarps and banderitas positioned? Absolutely not by their colors. How many times will corporate logos appear on our screens? The logo’s aesthetic value is never the reason. It’s all about the money. When the number of devotees who come to honor the Blessed Mother is used to jack up sponsorship rates, there is something terribly wrong with us. And how the cash is spent is another appalling story.


Next year, will our streets be free from advertisements? Will broadcasts be made for evangelization and not commercialization? Or will we, again, brush off the painful truth that there is so much to be done? A populist stand will only make matters worse. Intoxicated voyadores will become more brazen as they forcibly climb the andas. Parades and pageantry will mushroom, to push some underhanded agenda. And the Peñafrancia Fiesta will turn into a commodity offered to the highest bidder. As caretakers of the devotion, we have the duty to ensure that the fiesta is not for sale.