PGTW: Doing it right the Albay way

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 April 2014, Thursday

Doing it right the Albay way

Legazpi, Albay – All roads lead to Albay this month for the province’s Daragang Magayon celebration, its colorful, noisy, and joyous annual flagship festival.

Held from Mar. 24 to Apr. 30 this year, each day is full of activities, from contests (beauty, brass band festival and majorette showdown, bikini open, you name it, there’s a competition for it) to dance and fitness workshops and a plethora of cultural events.

The main activity today is a civic-military parade and Albay Day presentation, while tonight will be the Awarding of Outstanding Albayano Artists at the Astrodome, with poet Marne Kilates as one of the awardees.

Also to be recognized in today’s rites and participating in the activities as special guests are Binibining Filipinas winners Yvethe Santiago and Bianca Guidotti, and this year’s  valedictorians of the Philippine Military Academy and Philippine National Police Academy. All are from Albay or have roots in the area.

Legazpi City is green, with lots of fruit trees and ornamental plants in the urban areas. The air is cool and humidity is low, even with temperatures soaring almost as high as Manila’s.

Agriculture is among the province’s top industries. The area produces copra and abaca, coconuts and coconut-based products, sugar cane, pineapple, vegetables, rice, rattan, chili peppers, and its famous pili nuts.

Tourism is another strong growth industry. According to Meanne of the Albay cultural office, tourism grew by 66.93 percent last year; the target set by Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda was a 67 percent increase in tourist arrivals. For their team have achieved this strong performance despite the depredations of natural calamities and other challenges speaks well of how ably Albayenos rise to the occasion.

Tourism is strongly supported with marketing and information efforts. For instance, tourists at the airport are greeted with an Albay “passport” that details all the sights that one can visit, from churches to natural scenery to restaurants serving Bicolano dishes such as the famous pinangat (gabi leaves in kakang gata), inulokan (like pinangat but with crab), Bicol Express (a fiery vegetable and pork dish), and more.

There’s even a mini-map inside the passport. You want ‘helpful’? Albay is it. Tourist centers in various towns have an abundant supply of flyers and brochures.

There are even books – just drop by the tourism and cultural office at the Albay Capitol for The “Guidebook for Albay: Tourist Guides” and the novel “Magayon: An Satuyang Probinsiya” by Albay poet laureate and consultant Abdon Balde Jr.; “Camalig: Albay’s Cabecera of Christian Evangelization,” a history of the town by Danilo Madrid Gerona;  and “Soul of the South”, a publication of the province chock-full of photographs of AlMaSor (Albay-Masbate-Sorsogon).

My favorite book is “An Mythos Kan Albay: Higantes sa Sayaw kan Tulong Bulod,” written by Balde and illustrated by Bert Gonzales. It lists over 50 mythological creatures from ancient legends recorded by Fray Jose Castaño, a Spanish friar who came to the Bicol region in 1871. The creatures are brought to life each year in a “Higantes” parade that fills the streets with capering, celebrating Albayenos and visitors.

This wealth of information is impressive. I do not know of any other province that can provide as much, or has as great a support for culture and the arts as Albay has on this wide a scope.

It’s not all about culture, though. Balde described how the province prepared for typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan.

“Yolanda made landfall on a Friday. As early as the Friday or Saturday before, Governor Salceda was already monitoring weather conditions. On Wednesday, the decision was made to evacuate at-risk families to shelters. Everyone responded quickly. The following day, upon learning that the typhoon would not directly hit Albay, the evacuees were asked to decamp.

“Governor Salceda then prepared Team Albay to provide rescue and other assistance to Tacloban, which was identified as an area that would be in the path of the typhoon. On Sunday, it was the first team to reach the devastated area and offer help.”

How was Salceda able to spread the word about the evacuation and the decampment, and the call for volunteers to Tacloban, so fast?

“Facebook!” Meanne said. The governor has his own FB page that he updates himself (no Twitter, though). Information posted there is monitored by each municipality and barangay and thus spread to all constituents.

The province also makes use of local radio stations to disseminate information. When a recording of the Oratio Imperata, a prayer for deliverance from calamities, is aired hourly, that means people should be on standby for weather-related news.

How Salceda runs his province with the support and cooperation of his mayors, other LGU officials, and people right down to the grassroots is an impressive look at how it can be done right.

From culture to food to literature to daily life, Albay is a marvel and a model for the rest of the country. ***

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