Held annually at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan, the Pawikan Festival celebrates the community-based conservation of pawikans or sea turtles established here in 1999. I’ve attended this festival in 2008, and this year’s celebration last November 29 was a much bigger affair in terms of attendees. Besides locals of Morong, busloads of students comprised a majority of the festival goers. This year’s festival was a one-day event held at a makeshift beachside area, graced by provincial government officials and guest consultants from the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. The program also featured charming performances by Koro Bangkal Bigkin, an Aeta children choir, who sang the Philippine National Anthem and nature-themed pop songs like Smokey Mountain’s Paraiso.
The Pawikan Festival coincides with the egg-laying season of marine turtles along the western coast of Bataan. From November to December, marine turtles come ashore to lay eggs in the evening. These eggs are collected by roving volunteers – many of whom were former poachers – and reburied at the conservation center, where they stand a much greater chance of survival. One of the most awaited activities of the festival was the ceremonial release of sea turtle hatchlings. Around 80 olive ridley turtle hatchlings were placed in narrow sandboxes which were then opened to allow the adorable critters to scamper to the sea much to the delight and amusement of the thick crowds that had gathered along the beach to witness the unique sight. Unlike in previous festivals which were much smaller in attendance, people were discouraged from touching or holding the sea turtles this time, but it was difficult to prevent some of the excited parents and children from doing so for the sake of a few snapshots on their cameras and mobile phones.
As noon approached, the dancing competition began. Contingents from the different municipalities of Bataan participated in the contest, which featured interpretative dances centering on the theme of marine turtle conservation. Dressed as fisherfolk, pawikan and other marine creatures, the dancers energetically performed their routines with wide-eyed enthusiasm and generous smiles. The colorful contingents enlivened the audience who withstood the searing heat of the midday sun. Other festival activities included boat and paddle painting, sand sculpture, beach volleyball, quiz bee, body painting and trade fair. The festival ended with the awarding ceremony and, as night fell, a live concert and beach party.
Special thanks to Bataan Provincial Tourism for making this trip possible!