When I went to Dumaguete City straight from attending the Masskara Festival in Bacolod, I didn’t know that I would be able to catch the tail end of another festival—the Buglasan, said to be the festival of all festivals in Negros Oriental.
Unfortunately, I was too late to watch the street dancing; all that was left when I arrived was the fireworks competition along the Boulevard.
I remember feeling surprised when I heard about the festival from a colleague. I had always known about the Masskara, but why isn’t the Buglasan as popular? After all, both feature cultural activities, and the competition among the groups are also as fierce.
In any case, according to the Negros Tourism, the island was called Buglas in the old days, which was the inspiration for the name of the festival. It was only in the 1500s when the Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Bohol that the name Negros was given.
The festival itself started only in 1981, when the provincial government started a competition that had aimed to come up with a winning delegation that would represent Negros Oriental in the first National Folk Arts Festival.
As the “Festival of all Festivals,” the Buglasan’s primary objective was to highlight the creativity and cultural achievements of the people in Negros Oriental.
Waiting for the fireworks competition to start that night was not such a drag; Dumaguete is a very interesting place to walk around in. I took pictures of the church, the boulevard, and Silliman University. I people-watched, amazed at the number of retirement-age foreigners I had seen walking around in the city.
By then, I had also contacted a Couchsurfing (CS) member from a developed country, asking him if there were any CS meet-ups in the city.
By dinner-time, the CS guy had responded and, armed with my Nikon D3100 ready to take pictures of the fireworks, I met him at a bar in front of the Boulevard. He was past middle-age, and he had been in Dumaguete for several weeks already in connection with his work that was related to social services in his country. As I sat with him and his other Caucasian buddies, I had a feeling of unreality.
All around us were the cacophony of festival noises—from the loud live music across the street, the honks of passing vehicles warning pedestrians who seemed to have no care about walking in the middle of the road, the screams of corn and other vendors selling knick-knacks, the laughter of children as they chased each other around—and yet, there he was, talking to me about child sex trafficking in Asia and justifying its existence.
“Would you rather have the children starve than earn money for their family?” he said, guzzling his beer and winking at the young, pretty and scantily-clad Filipina across him who was hanging on to her (way) older, foreigner “boyfriend.”
He added, “Which do you think is more humane? At least when they’re trafficked, the traffickers take care of them, making sure to give them food, shelter, clothing, and medical assistance. Back home, they would have nothing.”
I had thought that he was baiting me, knowing that I worked in a child caring organization, but when the conversation wore on and it became clearer that he was dead serious, I felt dirtied. I excused myself and left his company; and none too soon, because when I looked back a few minutes later, I saw him with his arm around a young Filipina dressed in a mini.
My experience of the Buglasan Festival turned out differently. I certainly hope that the next time I go back to Dumaguete, all I would meet are the gentle people for which the city has been named.