‘FROM THE STREETS TO THE SCREENS’: Dinagyang highlights Ilonggos as warriors amid pandemic

The Sto. Niño remains the focus of the Dinagyang Festival 2022 which has adapted to the pandemic and adopted technology to harness and highlight the Ilonggo warrior spirit. (Arnold Almacen/CMO photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic changed the face of the world as we know it, and with it, the way we celebrate our traditions and festivities.

Iloilo Dinagyang Festival was not spared from the massive impact of this health crisis.

While the festival had been broadcast and livestreamed previously by local media organizations, the 53rd Dinagyang Festival was the first to be almost-entirely digital, doing away with the usual festivities and minimizing live events in favor of pre-recorded artistic performances.

In lieu of a tribal competition, the alumni of various school-based tribes which competed in past editions of the anticipated tribal competition came together for a “unity performance” to celebrate the Dinagyang Festival amid the pandemic.

But the adjustments caused by the pandemic did not stop the 2021 festival from catching the attention of people across the country and worldwide, as the One Dinagyang Tribes Digital Presentation garnered 566,600 views on Facebook while other side events also gained between 51,000 to 126,000 views on social media.

The 53rd Dinagyang Festival, otherwise known as the Dinagyang Digital, also won a Pearl Award from the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines for Best Tourism Practice During the Pandemic during its national convention in Manila late last year.

Prof. Eric Divinagracia, who took the helm as the Dinagyang Festival’s artistic director in 2020 just before the pandemic, said the pandemic forced the 2021 edition to transition “from the streets to the screens”.

“In 2020, we celebrated Dinagyang 360, a way at looking at the festival with new eyes, doing 360 views, opening the festival to more people. But in the past two years, in a way Dinagyang still went 360 as it went from street to screen. The festival has always been, in the past 53 years, a festival that has always been open to evolution, to change, to adapt to its environment, to its own text and context,” Divinagracia told Daily Guardian in a phone interview.

But since the pandemic was challenging to everyone, it did not exempt the festival’s organizers with their own set of struggles.

Divinagracia said the main issue for him was how to transfer the festival’s ultimate spectacle to people’s the small screens like their cellphones.

“Dinagyang has always been a live performance on the streets enjoyed by people watching it live. One of the challenges for us was, ‘How do you translate something live, something ephemeral, to the screen and make it virtual?’ I think that’s one of the creative challenges aside from the given, which was the safety, security, and public health considerations. That has always been the challenge,” he said.

To ensure the success of the “new normal” Dinagyang, the people behind the organizing team went to work and married considerations for health and safety protocols with the devotion to the Sto. Niño and the usual enjoyment of Ilonggos and spectators from other places.

As to the artistic aspect, Divinagracia noted the increase of their coordination and collaboration with the Ilonggo artistic community for consultation and artistic guidance, as well as barangays and their officials to highlight Ilonggo culture.

Consultations and collaborations with members of the Ati and Panay Bukidnon tribes were also a highlight for him, especially for the pre-recorded films which featured them, which he said was about “Dinagyang going back to its roots”.

This, he said, allowed the festival to “provide indigenous peoples and their cultures a wider space for them to speak up,” alluding to past criticisms that they were not included in the festival.

“We also employed forms that would be able to capture the spirit, the vibe of the whole festival, at least the whole feeling of watching the festival. We also discovered that film can also be a strong form in translating the message of Dinagyang to the people, not just in the comforts of their own home, not just for the Ilonggo people [previously] watching it in the streets. Last year, many people watched it online, so there is an opportunity for Dinagyang to go virtual,” Divinagracia said.


For 2022, the IFFI, along with other organizers and sponsors, aimed to replicate the success of the 2021 edition, albeit with more considerations to the health and economy of the Ilonggos.

Joyce Clavecillas, IFFI executive director, said the central question to their initial stages of planning this year’s competition was “What message do we want to give to the Ilonggo community?”

The answer is this year’s theme “Padayon Iloilo! Upod kay Senor Sto. Niño” which focuses on three ‘Fs’: Faith, Foundation, and Future, mirroring Ilonggo values and culture.

Clavecillas said the theme highlights the return to Ilonggo values and the devotion to the Sto. Niño as a “break point” to test the resilience of the people with their health, economic security, and daily personal and family life.

The theme, according to her, “encourages and inspires everybody about what they need at this time.”

The IFFI also consistently consulted with the Iloilo City government to make sure that all celebrations and events in the festival remained safe.

“We don’t want the Dinagyang to appear insensitive, so we thought of what the festival would mean to everyone so that they could feel the significance of the Dinagyang. We were able to come up with our theme, and everything just came to revolve around it,” Clavecillas said.

“It’s not about merry-making, because we cannot have that aspect at this point. So that is what started off the preparations for the Iloilo Dinagyang, and step-by-step, we met with stakeholders virtually to hear their sentiments, where we came up with holding another virtual edition with some on-ground activities, including the competition, centering the festival on Ilonggo values and the fact that all Ilonggos are warriors,” she added.

The Dinagyang Tribes competition, which makes a comeback this year, has also been transformed, according to Divinagracia, by allowing performers and filmmakers to make use of various locations in the city.

Divinagracia collaborated with other known Ilonggo art educators for this Dinagyang, including filmmaker Elvert Bañares, dance professor Jemuel Garcia, and teacher Edison Sicad.

The devotion to the Señor Sto. Niño remains central in the tribes’ competition, as this allowed more participation in the districts and represented Ilonggo values.

These “Ilonggo values” are Pagsinadya (Celebration), represented by Arevalo district; Paghigugma (Love) by City Proper; Pagtililipon (Gathering) by Jaro; Paghirupay (Closeness) by La Paz; Pag-intindihanay (Understanding) by Lapuz; Pagpahanggud (Growth or Development) by Mandurriao; and Pag-amliganay (Nurturing) by Molo.

The message of the performances focuses on inclusivity and the Ilonggo community, as well Iloilo’s history and heritage of resilience, while creating forms and platforms bringing this message to the people.

Each tribe was assigned an Ilonggo filmmaker to shoot their performance, which constitutes 50 percent of the overall score in the competition that will culminate on Sunday, Jan 23.

“[The Dinagyang Tribes competition] is an imagination of who the Ilonggo can become, and it became more important in the pandemic, that we all became warriors battling the pandemic in the frontlines. Also, when we maximized the medium of film, we explored different sites, we employed Ilonggo filmmakers,” Divinagracia added.


The recent pandemic editions of the Dinagyang Festival also provided the blueprint for how it may be held in the future, especially in a post-pandemic period.

Divinagracia believes that with the recent changes applied and the use of technology to spread the festival’s message, it would be able to adapt to any future changes, so long as it stays to its core.

“I do believe that Dinagyang will adapt in the future, as long as it stays to its core, which is basically the devotion to Señor Sto. Niño, the culture of the Ilonggos, our Faith, Foundation, and our Future. So as long as you have that, I guess the Ilonggo will always be resilient,” he said.

Divinagracia added that public safety will continue to be a consideration in future Dinagyang events. They will also continue to harness the power of social media and other virtual forms as channels for others who cannot physically attend and experience the festival.

“Eventually and hopefully, when Dinagyang goes back to the streets, when we are a bit safer, since we are working on the side of caution, we could always think of Dinagyang to have two versions, or explore other forms or platforms,” he added.

For Clavecillas, she said that Dinagyang will continue to be relevant from this point forward, citing their partnership with the Department of Education which added the festival as part of learning materials in the blended learning modalities of elementary, secondary, and Senior High learners.

She added that the festival will continue with the mindset that Ilonggos can conquer challenges, given its experience in the pandemic.

“Given the experience now in the pandemic, we will live in the mindset that Ilonggos can conquer everything. That’s one impression that we can share with anybody, that Ilonggos don’t give up, because we are all warriors. Even if we go back to the normal times, Dinagyang is a symbol of our efforts and our hard work, as well as our Ilonggo values and our identity, our family and our devotion to the Señor Sto. Niño,” she said.

The 2022 Dinagyang Festival is organized by the IFFI, the San Jose Parish Placer, and the Iloilo City Government, with support from the Iloilo Provincial Government and the Department of Tourism-Region VI.

Daily Guardian is a proud media partner of the 2022 Dinagyang Festival.