“A hand fought best when it made a fist.” ― Guy Gavriel Kay
TORONTO – The Taste of Manila (ToM) street festival has come and gone. Everyone – from the organizers to their guests, especially those coming from the Philippines, to the vendors and their thousands of patrons – looks happy, and why not? (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjBtESoRpO0).
From its first year in 2014 to the fourth (only last month), ToM catapulted itself to the top, effortlessly, to become the undisputed king of Filipino festivals, not just in Toronto, or in Canada for that matter, but in all of North America.
It is colossal in the full meaning of the word. The pathetic claim of a Toronto organization that thrives on revenues from beauty pageants that it’s the “largest indoors” event only shows the dire straits it is in; its numbers do not even come close to the very first time ToM had its own.
ToM had a surprising 75,000 people in 2014. The self-proclaimed “largest indoors” had even padded its number to 13,000 people in a hall that could only accommodate 5,000. If 13,000 is accurate, then it’s only a mere 17.3 percent of what ToM had registered.
Through the years 2015 and 2016, ToM took in numbers progressively. It’s biggest was 350,000 last year, a number that seems to have been overturned again this year by the mammoth crowd approaching half-a-million. That’s 500,000. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VyMIujvF90).
The visitors from the Philippines had taken notice. One congressman said he asked city authorities and was told ToM had registered an estimated 300,000 attendees on the first day on Saturday, Aug. 19. He said the official estimate was that total attendance would approximate half-a-million people.
“I was surprised by the huge crowd,” said Congressman Anthony Bravo in a brief interview. “I am told by city officials that it’s going to reach half-a-million towards the evening” of Saturday, Aug. 19, ToM’s first day. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHamEsgMYmI at the 1:31 mark).
Retired General Alexander Ferrer Balutan, General Manager of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which was one of the Philippine government sponsors, saw a different thing. ToM’s political significance was not to be ignored.
“I am overwhelmed by the huge crowd that I saw earlier and it is a sign of unity for all of us here in Toronto that the Filipino community is really strong,” he said of ToM (video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwynRGpOmp4 at the 3:39 mark).
A ranking ToM official has disclosed that on its second day, Sunday, Aug. 20, attendance was quite below the previous day’s – at 200,000. That means that for the two days of that weekend, an estimated 500,000 people, give or take a few hundred, descended on Little Manila for the ToM festival.
At this juncture, it is isn’t the numbers anymore that matter to me most. ToM has proven itself four times; its track record of four years is unsurpassed and would probably remain that way in the future.
What matters now is the big potential that ToM holds on its hands – hinted on by General Balutan – that could change the political landscape in Canada. I think the politicians are seeing this now, the main reason the reds and the blues are competing for attention.
The blues, in particular, are aggressively trying to win back support after realizing, I hope, that one of its own had erred disastrously in showing arrogance and disrespect towards Filipinos, in general – a travesty of the roots he came from.
If ToM could muster 500,000 people in two days of revelry, it would have enough eyes and ears to see and hear, for example, a political candidate’s plea for support for public office, and possibly, put that candidate in office. If 500,000 were all voters, it’s unbelievable what those numbers could do.
My point is that ToM could be a powerful body if handled and managed properly. It could guarantee a public office in municipal, provincial and federal levels for qualified Filipinos. Similarly, it could consign sitting, non-performing politicians to perdition if all these politicians knew is to attend birthday parties and beauty pageants.
Just three weeks after the latest ToM blockbuster, there are already signs that some groups are laying the groundwork to destabilize ToM. One of these is known for agitprop activities. There’s another group of envious and disenchanted entrepreneurs who want a slice of the pie.
The political agenda is being readied and its target is ToM. The festival’s potential as a unifying force is beginning to show.#