50,000 devotees flock to opening of Kalibo’s Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan

Jun Aguirre
50,000 devotees flock to opening of Kalibo’s Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan

INDIGENOUS ENGAGEMENT. The Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-Atihan Festival is known for the engagement of indigenous tribes, although the "historical basis" of the festival has been officially debunked.

Jun Aguirre

Among the revived Ati-Atihan traditions in 2023 are face-to-face street dancing, the public chanting of Viva kay Senyor Santo Niño, and the Palapak, a tradition where church volunteers massage devotees using a small Sto. Niño image

KALIBO, Philippines –  More than 50,000 devotees flocked to the opening of the Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-Atihan Festival on Friday, January 6 after a two year break forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc presided over a Mass at the Cathedral Parish of St. John the Baptist, the seat of the Kalibo Diocese, and led the procession around the Kalibo Pastrana Park.

The diocese also launched the first of the nine novenas, which will continue until the culmination of the Ati-Atihan on January 15. Bishop Tala-oc offered the first day novena for the soul of Pope Benedict XVI who died on December 31.

While smaller than the mammoth festivities of Cebu, which also started its Fiesta Señor celebration on January 5 and the secular Sinulog festival on January 6, or Iloilo City’s Dinagyang spectacular, it is the biggest in Aklan province, where the Ati-Atihan festival originated as a religious feast for the Santo Niño in the 17th century.

In 1972, the festival’s premier day, the third Sunday of January, was given a secular name, Ati-Atihan.

Mil Almas- The Sto. Nino Mil Almas or a thousand souls derived its name from Kalibo (a thousand) and is a key figure in the Kalibo Sto. Nino Ati-atihan Festival as one of the oldest icons, with many devotees believing it has miraculous powers. Jun N. Aguirre
Happy devotees

In a press conference on January 6, Police Lt. Col. Bernard Ufano, deputy director for operations of the APPO, said they have prepared 2,500 augmentation forces, including police and civilian personnel, to serve as crowd control.

“During the opening salvo in October 2022, we expected 20,000 people but around 50, 000 people came. This is why, we are anticipating a bigger number, 100,000 people joining the revelry,” he said.

The return of the Kalibo festival comes as the private research group OCTA warns of rising positivity rates in Aklan and Iloilo.

Kalibo Mayor Juris Bautista Sucro said he is ready to coordinate with the Department of Health in case COVID 19 infections continue to rise after the Kalibo Sto. Nino Ati-atihan Festival.

“I am happy but also hesitant about the revelry because COVID-19 is still there,” said Jun Magpusao- A devotee from Ibajay town, which has its own festival on January 28. 

Ramon Dio, a member of the newly created Kalibo Ati atihan Festival Board (KAFEB) said the revival of the face-to-face tradition is part of the national healing process.

“This year’s revelry will also make people cope with the trauma brought about by the pandemic,” Dio said.


Among the revived Ati-Atihan traditions this year are face-to-face street dancing, the public chanting of Viva kay Senyor Santo Niño and the Palapak, a tradition where church volunteers massage devotees using a small Sto. Nino image.

The name Ati-Atihan means “to imitate the Ati people,” referring to the indigenous Aeta tribes in Panay.

However, historians have debunked the old textbook lessons of ten Bornean Datus arriving in Panay and the Aeta natives bartering away their land for a golden salakot (native hat) and necklace.

The festival street-parade, is called Sadsad, which is also what the locals call the way of dancing where the foot is momentarily dragged along the ground in tune to the beat played by marching bands. It showcases themed floats, dancing groups in colorful costumes, and people sporting face and body paints.

Kalibo Vice Mayor Cynthia Dela Cruz said that the local government has prepared P3.28 million in cash prizes and special awards and another P2.87 million in subsidies for participating communities in four categories.

At least eight groups are joining the tribal small category, seven groups for Balik Ati, 11 for modern tribal, and eight for tribal big category.

REVELRY. The Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-Atihan Festival parade has increasingly included secular themes, as in this group of ‘Pirates’ displays. Jun Aguirre

Unlike similar festivals in other provinces, the Kalibo Ati-Atihan allows revelers to mingle with costumed participants from barangays.

It is completely free, with no tickets needed for the competitions.

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Adorada Reynaldo, head of the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office, said they will be strictly implementing anti littering campaigns.

“Our personnel are going around Kalibo revelry areas to monitor. Those who will be caught littering will be asked to pay a P500 penalty,” she warned.


The Kalibo Sto. Nio Ati-atihan Festival is regarded as the Mother of Philippine Festivals.

The original Catholic event was part of the “fiesta system,” which the Spanish colonizers used to improve resettlement of natives around a local church (and garrison).

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the nternational Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICHCAP) of the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published in 2012 the “Pinagmulan: Enumeration from the Philippine Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

The first edition of the UNESCO-backed book included the Ati-Atihan Festival, signifying its great importance to Philippine intangible cultural heritage. – Rappler.com

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