Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gov’t agencies back 1st Catanduanes abaca festival
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, May 16 (PNA) -- The week-long fiesta that would pompously give recognition to the important role of abaca industry in Catanduanes’ socio-environment and economic development is enjoying full backing from various national government agencies, according to local officials.

Among these agencies are the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Dubbed as the 1st Catanduanes Abaca Festival, the celebration, which will be on May 23 to 29, will start with, among other grand events, the PhilFIDA unveiling its Abaca Showcase at the Capitol lobby -- depicting via exhibits and video presentations production processes, from planting and plant care to different ways of harvesting.

This event is hoped to drum up the public -- especially visitors, tourists and industry stakeholders -- the tedious process of abaca fiber production being experienced by farmers in maintaining the province’s prominence as the country’s top producer of this globally in-demand commodity, the PhilFIDA regional office for Bicol here on Monday said in a statement.

The DTI will handle the trade fair all throughout the festival’s duration at the Plaza Rizal in Virac, the provincial capital, where participation of several local business establishments engaged in abaca product manufacturing and trading has been assured, its provincial director Hegino Baldano said in a separate statement.

Apart from showcasing locally crafted abaca products, which is expected to attract new buyers and open additional markets, the trade fair will also present tour packages being offered by various homegrown tour operators featuring local sites and attractions.

According to DOT Bicol Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla, the festival, which her office is fully supportive of, welcomes the beginning of an era that recognizes the great potentials of the island-province as an exciting eco-tourism destination.

The exoticness of the island will also be the focus of the celebration that will place at the center stage the marvelous local tourism attractions popularized by verdant environment, rich ecosystem and majestic beaches, Ravanilla said.

She describes Catanduanes as a promising travel destination owing to its off-the-beaten-path ecotourism wonders, dive sites and sea surfing venues like Puraran Beach where waters offer thrill and adventure reeling with surf, sand and sun featured as the island’s tourism icon sitting amid the backdrop of scintillating coves and rolling hills.

The Provincial Tourism Office (PTO) has also prepared a “Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May)” celebration, a “santacruzan” event incorporating abaca products to the old Filipino religious tradition that is observed all over the Philippines during the month of May.

Santacruzan, which is considered to be the "Queen of Filipino Festivals", features beautiful town belles and good-looking escorts selected into this colorful pageant parade under beautifully-decorated hand-carried bamboo arcs locally called “arko”.

It will be staged on May 27 as a float parade and abaca garments fashion show cum Flores de Mayo showcasing the evolution of locally-crafted pinukpok/sinamay fabrics for the traditional saya to the modern cocktail dresses -- the elegant Barong Tagalog and baro’t saya.

The Barong Tagalog is a traditional attire which is actually an embroidered formal garment used by both the Filipino men and women not only for formal dressing but also as the most common traditional wedding costume.

Baro at saya -- the baro is the top blouse and the saya is the skirt -- has evolved with the passage of time as originally both the native sexes used to dress up with half-naked outfits and gradually, the Filipino females started to cover the upper torso with short and sleeved blouses later named as baro.

Catanduanes Governor Araceli Wong, in another statement, said that those are only among the line-up of events that will highlight the milestone of the abaca industry, from production and processing skills to technology development, marketing and investments.

“The 1st Catanduanes Abaca Festival will also be a grand showcase of the distinct culture and heritage of Catandunganons that contribute in the making of the island a unique tourist attraction,” Wong said.

These activities, the governor said, will feature as well the exceptional resilience from natural calamities of Catanduanes, given that the province occupies the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, exposing it to tropical cyclones constantly hitting the country’s eastern seaboard.

“We dedicate the celebrations especially to the province’s booming abaca industry as it is high time now that the province pays tribute to it in recognition of its significant contributions to the island’s economy and to the good life that its people enjoy, Wong said.

She said the Catanduanes Abaca Festival will be institutionalized from this year on “as an annual merrymaking that will be a venue for expressing our gratitude to God for this heavenly blessing” and showcasing the greatness of Catandunganons in nurturing this industry while promoting the local tourism industry.

The province, sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula and separated from the mainland by Maqueda Bay, has a total of over 35,500 hectares of abaca plantations cultivated by 15,454 farmers producing an average of 19,000 metric tons of fiber yearly, representing 33.2 percent of the total national annual production, to become the country’s fiber industry leader.

This makes abaca its backbone industry that since time immemorial has made the island a prized contributor to country’s fiber export earnings.

In 2012 alone, the country posted an amount of USD 120 million in abaca export earnings or an over Php 5 billion on the back of increased demand for abaca pulp and cordage in the Philippines’ major markets, according to PhilFIDA records.

Called a smart crop owing to abaca plants’ resistance to typhoons and drought, it serves as the top agricultural commodity that keeps the local economy alive from the farm gate down to traders’ receipts providing stable employment, livelihood and business opportunities leading to the province’s lower poverty rate compared to other Bicol areas.

In its latest poverty incidence report, the Philippine Statistics Authority placed Catanduanes’ poverty rate at 27.1 percent, the second lowest next to Camarines Norte’s 24.7 percent among Bicols’ six provinces -- with Masbate topping the list at 44.2 percent, followed by Albay, 36.1 percent; Camarines Sur, 33.5 percent; and Sorsogon, 32.1 percent. (PNA) RMA/FGS/DOC/CBD/EBP