MAURO GIA SAMONTE

THIS year’s observance of the town fiesta of Angono, Rizal has become a weeklong celebration — from November 17 to 24. For a town so small that it seems forever disqualified from transforming into a city, it is quite intriguing. Why embark on such grandiose festivities?

It turns out that the former mayor, Gerardo V. Calderon had, during his incumbency, designated the third week of November as the time for observing the Higantes Festival, which has now become an iconic event, both for the local folks of Rizal and for tourists who come to enjoy the occasion.

It used to be that the higantes, the giant papier mâché caricatures of Catholic religious figures, were part of the town’s commemoration of the Feast Day of St. Clemens, patron saint of Angono — a Catholic affair. Calderon realized that the practice effectively excluded non-Catholics of the community, particularly followers of the Iglesia ni Cristo, who are quite many. By bringing the Higantes Festival out of the ambit of the Catholic celebration, Calderon succeeded in turning the event into a truly popular secular phenomenon: people from all walks of life, young and old, and of widely varying religious faiths, set aside religious and cultural divisions in order to mark one more milestone in the town’s continuing drive for prosperity and contentment for all Angonoans.

Thus, while the Feast Day of St. Clemens is being commemorated today, the Higantes Festival had exploded in merriment last Sunday, thereby making for probably the longest town fiesta celebration in Philippine history.

One distinct feature of last Sunday’s festivities were the higantes images of Dr. Jose Rizal, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, and Miss Universe winners Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray. This is a radical departure from the traditional genre of giant figures that used to be an amalgam of characters from Philippine folklore, the Catholic Church and the Bible.

“It only shows that tradition is not an empty ceremony but a way of life, capable of birth and growth on and on and on,” Calderon declared during my visit to the town the other day. “What started as purely religious ritual has blossomed into a vital cog in the economic development of Angono. The Higantes Festival has transitioned from a strictly cultural affair to a significant mechanism for pushing Angono forward in all aspects of development.”

Calderon said the higantes figures of Rizal, Senator Pacquiao, and Pia and Catriona that participated in the festival in Angono last Sunday were the same ones the town sent to Itaewon, South Korea last month to participate in the annual Itaewon Global Village Festival. The South Korean event had metamorphosed into the international hub for cultural displays from all over the world.

“We were particularly chosen by the Philippine Embassy in [South] Korea and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to represent the Philippines in the Itaewon festival, and I think that’s recognition enough of Angono’s distinction as the ‘Art Capital of the Philippines,’” Calderon said.

According to Calderon, the Higantes were escorted to South Korea by Angono Mayor Jeri Mae Calderon, his daughter, whom he said did a good yeoman’s job of promoting Philippine culture at the event.

“I believed Jeri Mae passed that one with flying colors. Based on the crowd reaction to the higantes in the Itaewon festival, Jeri Mae got across the message to the crowds: ‘Come, have more fun in Angono.’ Now that should translate to more tourist arrivals to our own festival next year,” Calderon said.

The South Korean sojourn by Jeri Mae occurred when she was only into the first 150 days of her tenure. The accomplishments she made must be something for the young Angono executive.

Calderon completed the last of a three-term tenure so that in the past election, barred by law from seeking the mayorship any further, he slid down to vice mayor, as the running mate of his daughter, Jeri Mae, who was then the top councilor of Angono. Father and daughter won, with Calderon ending up being addressed as “Mayor Vice,” instead of Vice Mayor. To understand how this came about, remember Erap. After winning as mayor of Manila, he proceeded to sport the title “President Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada.” It is really just showing respect for the higher position you served so well before.

At any rate, though officially playing second fiddle to his daughter, Mayor Vice Calderon continues to have his hands full minding the same concerns of the municipality that he attended to during his incumbency at the town’s top post.

On the day following the Higantes Festival, that is, November 24, Calderon will preside over the Regional Assembly-Calabarzon of the Knights of Rizal, of which he is the Supreme Commander for Southern Luzon. He intends to highlight in the occasion what he terms as the “Filipino ideology” of Rizal. (I don’t know how different it is from the “Filipino ideology” of revolutionary-turned-bishop Nilo Tayag, founding chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan, of the Aglipayan Church.)

The Knights of Rizal affair will see Calderon swearing in some 500 new members all at once. This can turn out into one of the largest oath-taking event ever conducted by he sociocivic group.

What Calderon actually feels needs emphasizing about Rizal was his innovative ideas in dealing with economic concerns, “like devising irrigation for farming during his exile to Dapitan.”

According to Calderon, even Rizal’s idea of independence had deep roots in his vision of economic development for the Philippines. He falls short of asserting a truism in political economy that economic power gives rise to political power and political power serves economic power. Calderon admits that in the administration of his daughter as top executive of Angono, she is her own man.

“She is creating her own identity. At best, I only serve as a consultant to her,” says Calderon.

Within her first 150 days, Mayor Jeri Mae has maintained the Seal of Good Local Governance, consistently earned by her father in the entire long stretch of his administration of the town.

And in the first place, the Higantes Festival, the way it is today, was a brainchild of her father — one of his many modes of generating revenues for the town’s economic development programs.

With her success with the higantes’ participation in the Itaewon Global Village Festival, she is fast turning into a real chip off the old block.