Feb. 22, 2006

Aurora - On a Flight to Progress
By L. Castillo

From L - R: Lindy Castillo, Gov. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara and actress Elizabeth Oropesa.

Last Friday, February 17, 2006 at 10:00 am, I boarded a SEAir plane on its inaugural flight to Baler, Aurora Province. Inside, there wasn't much air ventilation, but there was surely an air of pride. Senator Angara and Ms. Nini Quezon Avancea (daughter of the late President Manuel L. Quezon) were the VIP passengers on board. There were about six foreigners from all over the world who joined us - from as far as Switzerland and USA to nearby countries such as China and Taiwan. As soon as they saw SEAir flights advertised on our very own website, they immediately booked seats. We have been negotiating with SEAir since early last year for them to fly to Baler so we can finally open up the province to high-end tourism. The efforts of Governor Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo finally paid off that day.

It was a rough ride as we traveled against the wind on a small 19-seater aircraft. It did not seem to matter to passengers who started taking pictures of the breathtaking views of the Pacific ocean and the long cemented airstrip, as we began to descend 45 minutes later. Upon landing, the passengers cheered the same way balikbayans do aboard PAL when they land in Manila. As the airplane door opened, we were pleasantly greeted by ALL the provincial and municipal government officials of Aurora province including Cong. Sonny Angara. Add to that, all the heads of government agencies, members of the business sector, government staff, interested locals, greeters dressed in elegant 'sabutan'* costumes and a marching band. There were about a thousand people gathered together to witness this historic event.

This inaugural flight celebration also marked the beginning of the 27th Aurora Foundation festivities.

Gov. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo (2nd from left) with actor Sam Milby (center), actress Elizabeth Oropesa (2nd from right), Lindy Castillo (extreme right) and guests.

Later that evening, we proceeded to the basketball court of Baler Central School to witness the launch of the 'bac...ayos ka!' program of the provincial government's Youth Development Council. The aim of the program is to genuinely empower the youth towards self-development through health and education programs, skills development, entrepreneurship and socio-economic related projects. Thousands of youth packed the court to enjoy the event and most especially to scream for their idol, Sam Milby of Pinoy Big Brother fame, who graced us with a unique rendition of the Platters classic, "Only You". Gov. Castillo gave a speech beforehand and reminded the audience that we are a happy, hospitable but disciplined crowd and that we will not cause a stampede. But once Sam sang on stage, the audience could not stop themselves nor could the security do anything with the screams and picture taking in front. Despite the excitement and commotion, no one got hurt.

From L - R: Ms. Casiguran, who was crowned as Binibining Aurora; actress Elizabeth Oropesa who was one of the pageant's judges; and Gov. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo.

From there, we proceeded to watch the Bb. Aurora beauty pageant. I was very much impressed with the festival costume parade that I decided to award a cash prize to the designer of the Best costume who painstakingly weaved 'sabutan' so it can elegantly fall and follow the contour of the candidate's body. The pageant was a long but entertaining production which can easily match up to the beauty pageants held in Metro Manila. The Belle Star dancers showcased Philippine heritage with their traditional dance ensemble during intermissions. Each of the 8 candidates wore lovely gowns clothed by a Manila-based fashion designer. They were all titillated when serenaded by Sam Milby but confidently answered the tough questions hailed by judges such as Elizabeth Oropesa and Azenith Briones. Before the clock struck 2 a.m., emcee John Arcilla announced the winner - Candidate # 3, Ms. Casiguran. She was in complete shock and took a while for her to absorb that she had just won the Bb. Aurora crown. Casiguran Mayor Binsu Bitong proudly went up the stage to congratulate her. He had been a staunch supporter from the beginning. It is the first time in the pageant's history that a candidate from the northern towns (i.e. Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag or Dicadi for short) emerged as the winner. Indeed, another historic event for Aurora province.

The following day, people were still talking about the pageant as they took to the streets to watch the street dancing parade of kids dressed in various indigenous materials from coconut husks to sacks and of course Aurora's very own 'sabutan'.

The float from the town of Baler.

On Sunday, again, people kept talking about the Bb. Aurora candidates as they watched the float parade. Each town showcased its own float covered with 'bunot', 'sabutan' formed into various shapes like caves and trees. To encourage creativity and 'bayanihan' spirit, the Governor announced a whopping Php25,000 prize for the best float. At the end of the Aurora Foundation ceremonies, they proclaimed Maria Aurora as the winner of the coveted Best Float prize.

From there, we sped to the airport in San Luis to catch the 1pm flight back to Manila. An American with his balikbayan wife from Maria Aurora joined us. The flight back was much smoother and faster (45 minutes from take off to landing) as we traveled with the wind on a relatively new air-conditioned aircraft. We were all beaming with pride and cheered the same way as when we landed in Baler when we reached the Manila Domestic tarmac.

It was nice to have been witness to this segment of Aurora Province's history. Decades from now, when tourists from the rest of the country and all over the world flock to Aurora on a daily basis, I shall look back on this historic weekend with only warm, happy memories of how Aurorans never fail to pursue their dreams of progress with their continued use of natural talent, ambition and hard work. Continue flying... Aurora!

*Sabutan comes from a wild plant with long, sharp leaves and grows only in Aurora Province. When dried, it remains soft but firm enough to keep the desired shape. Aurorans skillfully weave 'sabutan' into various accessories, including gowns, corsets, beach attire, as well as bags and hats which are exported by big companies like Liz Claiborne to stores in North America and Europe.

More 27th Aurora Foundation Day Pictures >>

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