By John Noel E. Herrera
For two years, the usual world-class celebration of the Dinagyang Festival, which consistently drew huge crowds and attracted more tourists, was halted due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The health crisis affected almost everybody, including small vendors who always found opportunities to earn more during the festival.
Now, with the return of street events in this year’s Dinagyang Festival, it is not only the vibrant colors of costumes and street murals and lively drumbeats and dance performances that await the public but also vendors who are once again hopeful to earn more with the return of the Dinagyang crowd.
Ruel, one of the ambulant vendors who sell Dinagyang-inspired accessories like ear cuffs, bracelets, and headdresses around the downtown area in the City Proper district, said he hopes to earn more knowing that huge crowds will flock to the streets of Iloilo City.
“Kahapon (January 19) lang man ko nag-umpisa gid kay damo na mga tao kay ara na bala mga food fest. Ti amu ni, tani madugangan gid subong ang kita kay amat-amat naman damo tao,” Ruel said.
He started selling every Dinagyang since 2016 and stressed that the pandemic affected their income, especially since it halted not just the celebration of Dinagyang, but also other festivals in the region.
“Ang pandemic grabe gid epekto ya sa amon. Wala na gid ti mga festival, amu lang man na tani bala tyansa nga maka-benta man dako, pero ti kay wala man. Pero subong, ti tani makabawi gid,” he said.
Claire Demayo, a street food vendor in City Proper district, also noted an increase in her daily earnings this Dinagyang season compared to the usual days.
“Medyo nagtaas-taas gid man subong amon benta, kay ti damo na gid mga galagaw kag tani ti madugang pa gid mag highlights na gid sa 21 kag 22,” Claire said.
One sidewalk vendor also recalled what she experienced during the pandemic, as the streets were filled with silence even during last year’s celebration of the Dinagyang Festival.
“Sang ligad nga Dinagyang, daw indi gid gani bala Dinagyang, daw halos wala sang mga tao, ang kalye kalinong, kahilidlaw bala nga damo gid mga tao galakat,” alias Rita said.
“Subong, mayo kay nagbalik na, nalampasan man, daw wala na pandemic,” she added.
Aside from these ambulant vendors, the return of the Dinagyang food festival in the city streets is also boosting the income of food entrepreneurs as it gives an instant opportunity for them to double their income compared to regular days.
There are over 100 participating kiosks in the food festival which offer different Ilonggo cuisines for tourists to experience and even locals to enjoy.
The food kiosk operators and owners are also required to present their business permits to ensure food safety and sanitation as the City Health Office (CHO) continues to inspect all the food fest areas if they are following the guidelines.
“Indi ma-kompleto ang Dinagyang kung hindi ma-showcase ang aton food, the best menu, different restaurants showcasing and we are happy it is back, and para sa mga turista nga matilawan man nila aton mga pagkaon,” Iloilo City Councilor Sedfrey Cabaluna said.
The Iloilo City Government also noted that the festival has been one of the main economic drivers of the city with revenues for the accommodated sector, tourism sector, food sector, and even the transportation sector.
“The festival has a huge impact in terms of economic recovery because it helps not just one aspect, but a lot, including transportation. It will be favorable to small vendors, the pasalubong industry, and those into producing locally-made products,” Iloilo City Tourism and Development Office head Junel Ann Divinagracia said.
As the public is now anticipating the comeback of world-class performances during the Dinagyang Festival with lively drumbeats, cheers, and songs, as well as colorful vibe and costumes, these vendors also remain hopeful that the return of the festival will bring them opportunities to earn more, and thankful that somehow, they have survived the challenges brought by the pandemic.
As another vendor, Rita said, “pasalamat gid kay daw wala na ta sa pandemic. Balik na ta tanan dagyang-dagyang kag sinadya!”