MassKara – a celebrated festival born out of crisis, tragedy

Posted by watchmen
October 23, 2021
Posted in Lifestyle

By Dominique Gabriel G. Bañaga

The MassKara Festival of Bacolod City is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the country today, celebrated until the third week of October.

The festival still attracts a lot of visitors every year, and it would later gain the city’s moniker as the City of Smiles.

However, despite bringing the happy atmosphere, the festival itself was born out of the darkest crisis and tragedies of the 20th century not just for the city but for the entire province of Negros Occidental.

Prior to the festival being born, the economic growth in Negros Occidental and its capital Bacolod City was booming thanks to the sugar industry.

However it all changed during the 1980s when world market prices for sugar drastically went down and the livelihood of the locals was affected.

Then Bacolod City Mayor Jose “Digoy” Montalvo suggested having a mask festival, as several artists came up with the idea of promoting masks which could become an alternative source of income for the locals.

Despite Montalvo’s idea, several people have expressed doubts if they could sell enough masks.

The ultimate blow meanwhile came on the evening of April 22, 1980, when the ferry vessel M/S Don Juan of the defunct-Negros Navigation was rammed by the M/T Tacloban City of the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) somewhere between Tablas and Maestre de Campo Island causing the Bacolod-bound passenger vessel to sink.

The sinking claimed the lives of 18 people, while 115 were reported missing.

Most of the casualties in the tragedy were noted to be families of well-known Negrense sugar barons or politicians.

Among the casualties include the wife, daughters and the mother-in-law of then-mayor Montalvo.

It was also remembered that upon learning of the sinking, Montalvo himself immediately traveled to Northern Negros and even as far away as Romblon island to look for his family.

A memorial to the tragedy could be seen today at the right side wall near at the altar steps of the San Sebastian Cathedral.

Despite the tragedy and crisis, Montalvo still pushed forward with holding the festival, pointing out that due to the disasters the city needs the festival even more in order to bring back the smiles and lift the locals’ spirits.

Thus, the very first MassKara Festival was held on October 19, 1980, the day which also marked the city’s Charter Day anniversary.

The charter anniversary was later moved to June 18 after it was discovered that then Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon signed the city’s charter on the said date, and the October 19 commemoration was the inauguration date of the city.

Since then, the MassKara Festival was marked annually, and among the events being held are MassKara Queen pageant, float parade and street dance competition.

Other events such as Electric MassKara would later be added and would later become the city’s biggest street party which is normally held along Lacson street from B.S. Aquino Drive to the front of the Provincial Capitol Lagoon.

The annual event also attracts thousands of both local, domestic and international tourists.

In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte also admired the city’s festival stating “[the] MassKara Festival is an inspiring story of Filipino resilience.”

The MassKara Festival is currently on its second year of hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes mass gatherings “not possible at all.” However, many believe that the festival will return soon./DGB, WDJ


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