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By Prof. Rolando Borrinaga
My opinion item on the rumored threat of scrapping the Tsinelas Party under an unsympathetic new leadership in Naval generated heat and controversy in a social media outlet frequented by Biliranons around the world. A good number of reactors seem quite certain that my opinion is wrong, and that this nine-year old street party on fiesta night in town would stay. (To the critics, there is no right or wrong opinion, only majority or minority opinion. And the event at issue is still too young to be labeled a “tradition”.) They even got the commitment of a known wannabe to have this social activity retained. Sadly, the youthful and/or shallow myopic defenses posted on social media border on naivete and can only serve as convenient smokescreen for some hoodwinking politicians and manipulators.
After reading the various comments and reactions, I retain the hunch that the Tsinelas Party is still on the chopping block. It is not actually difficult to realize this by determined manipulators, based on what happened in town in the recent past, especially by the same group of practitioners who seemed to have perfected their craft.
The purpose is quite simple: Scrap those public rituals, visual symbols and rallying points that would make the people of Naval feel united and happy about themselves. And then sow intrigue and selective favoritism to keep them divided-and-ruled. This is the key strategic line that has neutralized the impact and influence of Naval and its people, who constitute more than one-fourth (around 27%) of the total electorate in Biliran Province.
How was this done in practice? In the late 1990s, Naval lost a truly long tradition: the Annual Grand March to welcome the New Year at a dance party in the Municipal Quadrangle. The municipal government simply did not support the holding of this unifying ritual at one time, and it was abandoned thereafter. Before the general public knew it, it was gone. And later efforts to resurrect this ritual have not prospered.
The case of the old Town Hall was more complicated. In the 1990s, there was already a law pertaining to the preservation of public structures that were more than 50 years old, for their heritage value. But some local decisions had been made. The shell of a new municipal building had already risen on the old municipal cemetery of the town (our non-Catholic dead were the first to be displaced), and a congressman had already planned to build a gymnasium on the existing municipal grounds. Since these moves were frowned upon by a significant number of constituents for sentimental reasons, it became a matter of wait-and-see, of who would blink first. Meanwhile, the old Town Hall was left to the elements, and national offices in the municipal compound were persuaded to transfer elsewhere.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, a wrecking crew with trucks swooped down on the municipal ground one day in early 2002, and in two days’ time the old Naval Town Hall was torn down, with the ripped structures deposited at the Provincial Capitol ground in Calumpang. Naturally, this stealthy act raised a loud outcry from the general public, which I promptly feedbacked to a key person involved when I came home for a visit.
I was told at face that, as an appeasement measure, a semblance of the old Naval Town Hall would be built, and that it would even have a museum component. Those were friendlier times and, faced with a fait accompli, I tried to be of help in making the replacement a reality. But sadly, it could never cover up for something that the people of Naval had permanently lost – a vital symbolic piece of our collective identity and memory.
Two years later, in January 2004, with the gymnasium already in the works, the municipal government rented the basketball and tennis courts across the street on the present compound of the Cathedral School of La Naval for the Coronation Night and Naval Fiesta socials. Invited to the exclusive Coronation Night socials were some heirs of political dynasties around the country, and these guests and local elite revelers were protected and separated from the tsinelas-wearing general public by barbed wires hang around the perimeter fence of the compound.
This was the momentous event in town that planted the seed for the Tsinelas Party, which was introduced after a Naval-born mayor assumed office in 2007, along with the return of the fiesta schedule from January to its original October date. The political dynasties of the country and their local elite adherents can have all the exclusive shoes-only parties they want inside their barbed wire protected enclaves. But they may not interfere with or intervene in the fun of the tsinelas-wearing ordinary people of Naval dancing on their street on fiesta night.
The crowd at the Tsinelas Party 2015 reached an all-time high of at least 5,000. Obviously, a good number of them came because of the rumor that this would be the last act for this event with a strong underlying protest message.
One question that need not be answered now is: Can the perceived cause of the Tsinelas Party as a protest act keep it in place under a new dispensation? Of course, they can always “smuggle” (the Filipino-English for tsinelas) this out, but they will not succeed in presenting a self-serving revisionist story of its creation.
Another question is: Why are there no takers yet of the presidency of the Naval State University? But this is another story, never mind if it has the same thread as the threatened Tsinelas Party.