Reflections on my province’s Harvest Festival
Over a Cup of Tea
salty but exceptionally delicious with hot pandesal (breakfast buns). The town of Liliw proudly shows off its home-made sandals, slippers and
shoes, that can compete against world-class brand names of footwear. So most cities and towns display home-made or commercial versions of
their products like fruit candies, preserved fruits and veggies, and other kakanin (several sticky rice-based fingerfoods cooked in coconut milk and
brown sugar).

To me, however,  the biggest attractions of the festival are the various competitions that ranged from industry skills to personal virtues, from
agricultural wonders to musical talents; from personal beauty & performance to a mechanical version in cars and motorcycles; and from artwork in
landscapes to artwork in all forms, to name a few. With the top prizes reaching a thousand dollars or a little more and most of all, the prestige that
go with them, every town and city prepare big time for this annual event. The provincial governor also lures participant towns and cities to do their
best to win the most first prizes to entitle them to an additional bonus of one million pesos ($20,000).

Having been back in the country and my town for years now, I have had the wonderful experience of enjoying and participating in this festival four
years in a row since 2016. That year, as friends and I watched one of most talked-about pageants for senior citizens (Pinakamagandang Lola ng
Laguna [Laguna’s Fairest/Prettiest Grandmother]), we jokingly “assigned” each other to represent the towns we came from for the 2017
competition. I didn’t really think of it as real, until my town really got me into doing it the following year. Another friend of mine took the challenge, as
well, and she represented her town of Kalayaan, a few miles west of Sta. Cruz. As history would have it, I took the title, the first for my town, while my
friend from Kalayaan landed in fourth place, tied with the representative from the town of Magdalena. There were 18 candidates then, and I received
no special awards whatsoever. I guess it was pure luck I impressed the panel of judges during the Question & Answer portion of the pageant, that
I ended up getting the highest score and the final vote.

It was such a great moment for me, much different from feelings I used to experience when I was younger, competing at various literary and
musical contests in high school and in college. Maybe because it has been so long ago that I stood onstage being recognized, or maybe because
I couldn’t believe a recognition for beauty is something that is for me. There’s no question that after the competition, I became a bit popular among
my barrio mates and neighbors,  the town’s leaders, and many more of my former high school classmates. The thing for me now is to remain
humble and look at opportunities to contribute positively to my community.

In 2018, I crowned the winner who represented the town of Calauan, and did my final walk onstage, delivering my message of thanks to
supporters and the province’s leadership for such an incredible experience. This year, after a special appearance as an award handler, I am back
as a regular visitor to booths and outside displays, soaking in as much information as I could from each, and feeling proud of the obvious wealth of
my province, its beauty and its people.

Here are some of the 2019 ANILAG photos I’d like to share with you. When you visit the Philippines, make it first week of March, and come to our
Harvest Festival in Laguna. If you let me know in advance, I will certainly love to be your tour guide.
Every year, the people of the province of Laguna in the Philippines (a few miles south of Manila) celebrate the
Harvest Festival during the month of March, a few weeks before the tropical summer heat ensues. It is called
ANILAG (Ani ng Laguna or Laguna’s Harvest). The weeklong festival draws people from many towns and cities
throughout the province and from other parts of the country in Santa Cruz, the capital of Laguna, my hometown. The
venue of festivities is the provincial capitol grounds, where booths are set up like mini-buildings all decorated
creatively to highlight the major produce or industry pride of each town or city.

For example, the municipality of Paete, well-known for its wood carvings, displays wooden art work and religious
images that attract viewers and buyers alike. The town of Lumban, which is famous for its embroidered barong and
mestiza gowns made of piña cloth, has several samples of its hand-made gowns for women and barongs for men,
obviously catering to those who prefer elegance and classy outfits for special occasions, unmindful of the cost. My
town, Santa Cruz, features its well-known kesong puti (white cheese) which is made from carabao milk, slightly
Heidi M. Pascual
Publisher & Editor
2006 Journalist of the year
for the State of Wisconsin