TARLAC CITY -- The campaign to create an annual tourist attraction for Tarlac has gained ground with the launch this year of ?Belenismo sa Tarlac,? a project that seeks to transform the province into the ?Belen capital? of the Philippines.
Belenismo in Spanish means the art of making Belen, a representation of the Nativity scene in which the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus) is visited by the three wise men who came to the manger through the guidance of a star.
This year?s Belen Festival ran from September, when the first Belen-making workshop was conducted, to Dec. 16, the day the winning entries were chosen and awarded.
Organizers have intended the festival to become an annual event in the province.
?The [Belen-making] competitions brought out the very best in Tarlaqueños,? said Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay, who led the project. ?I am pleasantly surprised to discover how truly creative we are as a people.?
Suntay, sister of former Ambassador Eduardo ?Danding? Cojuangco Jr., is president of the Tarlac Heritage Foundation, a non-government organization.
Aside from Suntay, the organizers include Tarlac Gov. Victor Yap; businessman Jun Baron, president of the Tarlac Conventions and Visitors Bureau; and Fr. Alex Bautista, head of the Tarlac Diocese?s Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.
About four months ago, the organizing committee of the ?Belenismo sa Tarlac? started holding lectures and workshops where participants were taught to make Belen using various materials like styropor and carton.
?The project was conceptualized to help create an annual tourist attraction for Tarlac, develop a Belen-related cottage industry and, of course, preserve the religious importance of remembering the birth of Jesus Christ,? said Bautista.
On Dec. 16, Sen. Loren Legarda led the awarding of 16 winners in five categories -- personal, grand, monumental, municipal and diorama.
In the ?personal? and ?diorama? (closed Belen with three sides) categories, entries were transported to the judging site and submitted by individuals.
In the ?monumental? category, entries were life-size, while entries in the ?grand? category were at least three meters high.
In the ?municipal? category, participated in exclusively by municipal governments, the entries were larger than life-size.
The Tarlac police office, led by Senior Supt. Nicanor Bartolome, won the first prize in the grand category with its Christmas lights-rich entry placed along the Barangay Salapungan portion of MacArthur Highway in Tarlac City.
Bartolome said their Belen was built by at least 24 policemen, ?some of whom had been trained as architects, engineers, artists and carpenters before they joined the [police] service.?
The entry by Asiaten Hotel, located in Barangay San Sebastian in Tarlac City, placed second. It caught the judges? eyes because it is made up entirely of abaniko (native hand fan). The entry by restaurant Coconut Grill was third.
In the municipal category, the top prize went to Victoria town while San Clemente town was second. The towns of Ramos and Capas tied for third place.
In the personal category, Larni Castro of Barangay Padapada in Sta. Ignacia town tied with Roland Rigor of Tarlac City, for the top prize. They were followed by Ma. Rachelle Simon of Barangay Maliwalo, also in Tarlac City.
In the monumental category, the winners were St. Josemaria Escriva Parish, first place; Metrotown Mall, second; and Estipona High School in Pura town, third.
In the diorama-making contest, the first prize winner, Albert Dancel, placed the Holy Family inside a clay pot and seen through a crack shaped like the map of Tarlac.
Equally interesting is the second prize winner created by provincial government employee Ramon Espinosa, who set the birth of Jesus Christ in front of the lobby of the Tarlac capitol.
To house the collection of dioramas, the provincial government put up the Museo de Tarlac, located a few meters from the Diwa ng Tarlak Building in Tarlac City.
Bautista, who teaches liturgical arts at the University of Santo Tomas, said although Makati City is also holding Belen contests yearly, Tarlac?s activity is unique.
Tradition of Belen
?Ours is different because it?s not just a contest. We?re starting a tradition of Belen. For example, during Holy Week we can start visiting Belen sites, Visita Belen, and pray before them. There are prayers for Visita Belen, translated into different local languages like Ilokano, Kapampangan and Tagalog, meditating on the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord,? he said.
?Hindi lang siya mababaw na palabas (It?s not only for show). People are invited to pray. That?s why the Museo and the Belen exhibits were blessed because the principle is that they are objects for you to pray. So that you will remember the mystery of the birth of the Son of God.?