Pangilinan: From the sidelines of GLF

BY THE time this sees print, the new Giant Lantern Festival champion would have been announced. It is that time of the year again when it seems that the singular, most prevailing force in my life seems to be the Giant Lantern Festival. From the sidelines of local history, what does it really take to both mount and surmount a festival of this magnitude?

My first festival stint started in 2006 and this year will be my 12th year in the festival. Throughout the years, I have seen the giant lanterns grow, quite literally.

In 2006, the standard size for competition was 16 feet plus or minus six inches, while the current competition standard of 20 feet plus or minus six inches started in 2012. In between, there were some years when the standard size was 18 feet. Because of these dimensions, our giant lanterns have outgrown our barangay roads which makes it difficult for them to be transported.

From my view point, the secretariat has served two mayors and twelve Giant Lantern Festival chairpersons. Some of our past GLF chairs have gone ahead of us, but I remember with fondness their contributions to the festival and learned a lot about the spirit of volunteerism from their examples. Today, the past chairpersons serve as board of advisers of the festival, but we miss in our midst the likes of Architect Joel David and tito Eddie Chua.

I have witnessed how barangays come and go in the festival. I was there when San Felipe was gunning for the whole of fame but the chance was disrupted when Telabastagan clinched the championship away from them. I also saw how Telabastagan suffered a similar fate when it attempted for a triple championship but failed when Dolores won the top honors. The elusive hall of fame in recent history was finally achieved by Dolores in 2016, bringing home with it the revolving festival trophy, a piece of sculpture by Toym Imao.

The biggest festival in terms of number of participants was in 2006 with twelve participating barangays, a number which has not yet been surpassed. But with the advent of northern barangays participating in the competition through the years, it will not be long until we see this number again.

I felt happy when barangays like Pandaras and Del Rosario joined for the first time, or when Del Carmen participated after a 56 year hiatus. It saddened me when old participants like Santo Nino and San Felipe took their own leaves of absence because it felt like the spirit of community died with them.

The festival has had its own set of mishaps, like the time when wires were cut and stolen from the giant lanterns in front of the City Hall. But more moving were the miracles, like when it literally stopped raining just when the festival was about to start.

It is that time of the year when emotions are hyped and energy is badly needed, when stress takes its toll on the leaders and secretariat alike, when moments may end up in tears or walk outs. Beyond all these, there are the moments of joyous celebrations and a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, and that amazing feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself.

From the sidelines of the giant lantern, I see how the tradition defines us, but at the same time continues to evolve with us. After the festival is over, the countdown to the next Giant Lantern Festival begins, and how.
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