LUCBAN, Quezon, Philippines—This is one town festival where the stars are not the local beauty queens but docile farm workers—like Santino—who are adored by children.
Santino was one of the 25 thoroughly scrubbed carabaos which took part in Sunday’s parade at Lucban town, Quezon province, held annually to thank the farmers’ patron saint, San Isidro de Labrador, for yet another bountiful harvest.
Sharing the spotlight was Guyito, the popular, carabao-like mascot of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), which wore a costume stuffed with foam and rode on a wooden sledge (paragos) pulled by a real carabao.
Each of the 25 carabaos pulled its own paragos festooned with fresh farm produce and flowers.
The PDI sponsors the annual parade—called “Bikas Gayak,” meaning “well-adorned”—as a tribute to the farmer and his carabao, a symbol of the hardworking Filipino, said Erwin Reyes, the PDI’s business development officer.
“The PDI and Guyito salute the Filipino farmers [and the carabao] for their indefatigable spirit. They are inseparable—the hardworking master and the intelligent beast,” Reyes said.
On a normal day, Santino, like the other carabaos, works on a muddy rice field, helping his master in every aspect of farm work—from tilling and harvesting, to the hauling of produce and, yes, even the transporting of children to the nearest barrio school.
They took a break on Sunday to become the stars in the “Pahiyas” festival, a thanksgiving event held every May 15. The festival attracts crowds of tourists from different parts of the country and abroad.
Since the PDI started sponsoring the festival three years ago, carabaos like Santino have been given star status in the festival.
“We owe a lot to Guyito and the PDI. We’re already forgotten here (Pahiyas). If not for their effort, we would probably be destined for oblivion,” said Greg Guesea, owner of Santino.
Quesea and the other carabao owners plodded in the punishing heat, pulling their respective animals as they snaked through the town in a two-hour march.
Clad in dark blue vest and salakot, a native headgear fashioned from nipa fronds, Guyito led the parade, posing for photographs with the farmers’ children at various stops.
Residents on designated routes festooned their houses with a variety of fresh farm produce. The kiping, a rice wafer delicately shaped into leaves, was the main décor item.
Other homes displayed hats, bags and longganisa (sausages), their main sources of livelihood.
No sweat glands
“Parading a carabao around many people requires deft handling,” said farmer Andres Fontanilla of Barangay Kulapi.
Since carabaos have no sweat glands, the farmers helped cool their animals by splashing them with pails of water from flowing canals.
The Lucban farmers had lamented that in the past yearly feasts of San Isidro, they were relegated to the background as the annual fiesta became a commercial venture, with big businesses influencing the way it should be celebrated.
“They complained they were being left out in the celebration when they were supposed to be the center of attention because it’s the fiesta of their patron saint,” Reyes said.
Rey Quevada, one of the Bikas Gayak coordinators, said festival organizers and the local government had now returned the focus of the event to the farmers in recognition of their contribution to the rich legacy of Lucban.
He said that aside from the carabao parade, organizers had also revived indigenous games, like “carabao race,” “juego de anillo,” “karerang bao” and other favorite local pastimes.
The top three winners in the parade received a refrigerator, a washing machine and an LCD television set. Nonwinners received consolation prizes.