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AKLAN, Philippines – Authorities in Kalibo will impose a week-long gun ban in time for the Aklan capital town’s Ati-Atihan Festival as they prepare to deploy around 2,000 police officers and other security personnel during the festivities next week.
Lieutenant Colonel Ricky Bontogon, Kalibo police chief, said on Wednesday, January 10, the security group would include personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Municipal Risk Reduction Management Office (MRRMO), and police officers from different provinces in Western Visayas.
“This year, we expect more than 100,000 festival-goers to visit Kalibo for the Ati-atihan Festival,” Bontogon said.
The Ati-atihan Festival, which takes place on the third Sunday of January, is an annual celebration to honor the Santo Niño (Child Jesus) across Aklan province. “Ati-Atihan” means “to be like Atis.”
The At-atihan is reputedly the oldest festival in the country and has been referred to as the “Mother of All Philippine Festivals.”
To ensure public safety, Bontogon said, they will also enforce a week-long gun ban from Monday to Sunday, January 15-21, during which only members of law enforcement agencies will be allowed to carry firearms.
Bontogon, however, said the police have not monitored any imminent threats related to the annual festival.
Authorities reminded those who will take part in the Ati-atihan to avoid bringing backpacks or tote bags, except for parents carrying their infants and essentials, as well as drummers for their band instruments.
“They are not allowed to carry glass-bottled alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks in the festival area and carry items such as bladed and pointed weapons,” said lawyer Joevielle Jimenez of the local legal office.
The Kalibo town government said it would impose strict rules against smoking, vaping, and littering during the week.
A curfew for minors will also be implemented from 10 pm to 4 am daily, and bars can operate up to 4 am only during the week.
On January 21, the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) will jam telecommunication signals from 6 am to 9 am as part of security measures during the main Mass for pilgrims and the grand procession.
Kalibo Vice Mayor Cynthia Dela Cruz said residents and visitors would not be compelled to wear face masks, unlike during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Dela Cruz, a physician, said, “I advise the (elderly), infants, and those who are sick to still wear face masks. But it’s optional for them. They are to decide.”
The town government has started issuing car passes in Kalibo but emphasized that these may not be used to enter primary festival zones.
To maintain order, all street performers were given strict instructions to follow one direction.
Portions near the Kalibo Pastrana Park have been designated as “Balik Patik, Balik Tunog” zones from January 17-21.
Meanwhile, the Kalibo town government has set aside some P3.5 million for the winners of the 2024 Sadsad Ati-atihan contest, one of the biggest events during the annual festival.
Kalibo Tourism Officer Rhea Rose Meren said the grand winner in the Tribal Big category will receive P350,000.
Kalibo Mayor Juris Sucro has pledged P650,000 more, to make the top prize P1 million.
The total prizes for the Tribal Big category amount to P1.72 million.
Meren said the 1st runner-up for the Tribal Big category will receive an additional P50,000 from Sucro, in addition to the P250,000 from the local government.
Groups in the Tribal Small category will compete for P560,000, P440,000 for the Balik Ati category, and P630,000 for the Modern Tribal category.
Those in the individual categories will take home a total of P86,000, and those with special awards will receive P20,000 each, totaling P100,000.
There are 34 contenders across all categories. The competitions are scheduled for January 20, from 8 am to 5 pm, spanning Osmena Avenue to Kalibo Pastrana Park and other major streets in Kalibo.
“Kalibo is ready to welcome devotees and tourists for this year’s Ati-atihan Festival,” said Meren. – Rappler.com
Jed Nykolle Harme is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.