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Bacolod brings back the smiles

The smiles are definitely back.

Last weekend, I witnessed the successful culminating event of this year’s MassKara Festival, one of the grandest festivals in the country that had to be postponed for two years because of the pandemic. It was uplifting to see and feel the happiness and excitement of Bacolodnons in being able to celebrate this very important occasion once again.

The MassKara Festival has been a symbol of Bacolodnon’s triumph over crises — 40 years ago from economic depression and a tragic sea accident, and now from the Covid-19 pandemic. The occasion is a way of showing their resilience and optimism despite all the challenges. This year’s festival was anchored on the theme, “Balik Yuhum,” which means to smile again — a message to the world that the City of Smiles is back in business.

Festivals are a major part of our cultural heritage as Filipinos. It has been our way of thanking the Creator for the bounties of our land and seas; a showcase of our rich traditions that we continuously pass on to the next generations; and an outstanding display of camaraderie among Filipinos. Many of our festivals also draw both domestic and foreign tourists, thus boosting local tourism and economy.

In fact, Bacolod City Mayor Albee Benitez said that different businesses in the city have reached pre-pandemic levels during this year’s MassKara celebration, a clear indication not only of the success of the festival’s return but also of the recovery from the pandemic, particularly of tourism and the local economy.

One highlight of this year’s celebration was the MassKara sa Panaad — an idea of Victorias City Mayor and Association of Chief Executives (ACE) in Negros Occidental President Javi Benitez to incorporate the Panaad sa Negros Festival in the MassKara Festival. Through the program, 31 local governments of Negros Occidental opened their respective existing booths and pavilions in Panaad to showcase their products, cuisines, travel destinations, and culture. It also offered a glimpse of what people can expect in the return of the Panaad sa Negros Festival in 2023.

The first MassKara sa Panaad also paved the way for collaboration between the city and the province. It was the first time that the provincial government of Negros Occidental was invited by Bacolod City in the MassKara Festival. It was indeed a strong display of unity among Negrenses.

According to Mayor Javi, it allowed them to see greater opportunities between the province and the city in terms of cultural, tourism and economic cooperation.

President Bongbong Marcos, who was the MassKara Festival guest of honor, summed up the relevance of the festival’s return to the country’s pandemic recovery efforts, when he said that it sends a message to the world that the Philippines is back to working on its goal of accelerating the country’s economic growth so that the lives of every Filipino can be more comfortable. “Ang mga taga-Bacolod ang magiging halimbawa para sa buong Pilipinas. Kung kaya nilang gawin ang MassKara Festival sa Bacolod, dapat tayong lahat din ay ganyan, bumangon na tayo.”

If the successful comeback of the MassKara Festival is any indication of our recovery as a nation, then we are well on our way to achieving our pre-pandemic economic growth targets. And soon, we can see everyone’s full bright smiles once again, sans the facemasks.

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