GENERAL Santos City has its share of accolades, as the past few years, it has grown to become one of the country's booming cities in the south.
Apart from being called the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, the former quiet town rises up to its status as a highly-urbanized, rapidly growing first class southernmost city in the Philippines.
As gateway to the culture and economic developments of Soccksargen Region, Gensan continues to establish itself as the regional center of trade and industry. It now competes with other metropolitan cities in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and modern infrastructures. Gensan grows to become a hub for culture, business and leisure and a shopping destination in the region.
Today, the sights and sounds in GenSan is impressive and gaining popularity. Good roads offer smooth transport by land, accessible trips by sea and air, providing a vista of an eclectic mix of rural and urban local flavors: tall buildings sprouting up with hip architectural designs, surrounded by colorful down-to-earth tricycles which are still the main transport around the neighborhood.
This year's celebration of Kalilangan Festival (February 23-27) however is more subdued from its former spectacle and pomp pageantry in previous years, which earned itself the Hall of Fame award in the "Best Festival, Culture and Arts Category" by the Department of Tourism. Mindanao State University -- General Santos City (MSU-GSC) now passes on its successful reins to the new partner organizers, the Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Colleges (RMMC).
RMMC launched Kalilangan with the theme "Ano Ang K Mo?" -- a tagline that traces back to its cultural roots that helped shape Gensan into what it is significantly today. The letter "K" can mean anywhere from Kapayapaan (peace), Kasaganaan (prosperity), to Kagandahan (beauty). For the city's Mayor Ronnel C. Rivera, it also stands for Kampeon (champion), of which Gensan has steadily been producing proudly, apart from the world boxing hero Manny Pacquiao.
Kalilangan, derived from the root word "kalilang," is a Maguindanaon dialect which means "festivity." Camera Club of Gensan led by its President Rhodson Matulac was tasked to organize a 3-day Photo Safari for photographers. I was invited on this trip along with colleagues from the Camera Club of Davao. Freelance photojournalist and club member Edwin Espejo acted as our guide and host during our stay in Steven's Place, a newly established hotel in the heart of the city.
He explains that the Photo Safari was essentially "a walk into Gensan during the festival while experience the festivity from the point of view of photographers." The safari was not limited to scheduled events, though. After covering the opening ceremony, we witnessed the Pakaradjan (Moro Day) at the Oval Plaza, went up Mt. Sabrina to get a good view of the city, dined in popular restaurants like C Bistro, PinPin's at Tionko Arcade in Lagao, Sunset Bistro, and ate delicious baked chicken at The Peak. We were able to witness a well-staged closing ceremony with good performers and exciting firework display in the sky.
While Edwin said the time element didn't allow us further treks to trails, caves and other scenic spots, plus a short visit to Pacman in his Wild Card Gym (he left for Manila already), our last day in Gensan was a fitting finale to the safari. We have captured early morning scenes at the bustling Gensan International Fishport Complex and ate fresh food and lechon while there.
This year's Kalilangan may be off to a slow head start for the new organizers but the transition will certainly help the "Generals" shift its gears and return to its roots in contemplation, acknowledging its cultural identity -- a merging of different ethnicities and migrants who live together in harmony -- and embracing the key factors that make champions out of people.
Special thanks to the Camera Club of GenSan and LGU-GenSan for the wonderful accommodation and treatment, especially to Edwin Espejo, CCG President Rhodson Matulac and immediate past president Noel Nacion.
(The writer is a long time columnist of SunStar Davao, and a travel photographer who blogs and conducts workshops while based in Davao City. Visit www.kodakerdabawenya.com)