“BILIB gid ko a.”
This was how President Rodrigo Duterte described the MassKara Festival when he attended the highlights of its 38th edition held at the public plaza of Bacolod City Sunday evening, October 22.
Before he delivered a speech, the President watched the performance of Barangay 18 street and arena dancers. The group eventually bagged the championship trophy in the barangay category.
Duterte recalled that Bacolod suffered a most serious economic dip mainly brought by the slump in the sugar industry, and now it is again challenged because of high fructose corn syrup that competes with local sugar.
“But the people here were still able to celebrate, as a matter of fact, invented an event that could bring comfort and maybe consolation to the depressed emotions of the Negrenses “kaya bilib ako sa inyo at saludo ako,” the president said before thousands of spectators.
“It is my pleasure to join you in celebrating the 38th MassKara Festival, which was born from the unified efforts of locals to uplift the people’s morale from the hardships that hit Bacolod and island of Negros,” Duterte said, adding that “the festival became the symbol of its people’s happy disposition and resilience during difficult times.”
Duterte also noted that that every year, the festivity has been there to give guests the most memorable experience.
“In fact, this is one of the most anticipated events in the region. It is no wonder that Bacolod City is regarded as the City of Smiles,” he said.
Duterte said that to this day, the colorful masks continue to attract visitors from around the world, as he shared that when he arrived at Bacolod-Silay Airport he saw four airplanes with many passenger-guests.
“Daghan guro kadto di. Wow,” he said, quipping that he really admires Ilonggo beauty.
The President then commended the concerted efforts of the local government to make the event a success.
He expressed hopes that MassKara Festival may remind the Bacoleños, Negrenses and all Filipinos that they can rise up and surmount any crises through hard work, perseverance, and cooperation.
“Everyone gathered here also to show inevitable resolve in overcoming the problems in the country. Let us show the rest of the world that in every friendly smile there is an ironclad will to triumph over the struggles that come our way,” Duterte said.
He added: “More than merry-making, let the MassKara Festival be a continuing testament that no amount of hardship would dampen the Filipino spirit. Mabuhay kayong lahat.”
‘Gold mine, number one promoter’
Since he became president, Duterte has been attending MassKara Festival for two consecutive years. He was also the guest of honor at the opening rites of the festivity last year.
The President’s presence makes this year’s festivity more unique and more historic, Mayor Evelio Leonardia said.
Leonardia said there is no other festival in the country, aside from the one in his hometown Davao City, which the President has attended for two years in a row.
This has made Bacolod City the second home of the president, the mayor said, adding that MassKara Festival is not just a festival, it has become an icon of Bacolod.
“This celebration is a reflection of Bacolodnons' resiliency, determination to succeed, and never ending spirit of optimism," the mayor said.
Leonardia said the city government is doing its best to make the festival continuously grow and become one of the best in the world.
"So for all these efforts, the city has found the gold mine and the number one promoter of MassKara Festival in the President," Leonardia said, thanking Duterte for his presence.
“Sir, we are very thrilled and flattered. For the past many days we were celebrating it was always raining but now that you're here, you brought sunshine back to Bacolod," he told the President.
Themed "Bacolod: City of Southeast Asia," this year's festival highlight was also graced by other national officials including Interior Undersecretary Jesus Hinlo Jr., Internal Revenue Deputy Commissioner Jesus Clint Aranas, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, Kabayan Party-list Representative Harry Roque, and Davao City First District Congressman Karlo Nograles.
Also present were officials from Negros Occidental, including some town and city mayors, headed by Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr.
Bacolod Lone District Representative Greg Gasataya and some city councilors also welcomed the President at the plaza.