The Philippines, some people say, is a nation of festivals. All throughout the year, the country holds dozens of festivals spread across its 7,107 islands. Some of these have become famous the world over such as the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Kadayawan Festival of Davao and the Ati-atihan Festival of Aklan. And while most of these festivals are religious in nature, having traced its beginnings from the veneration and worship of Catholic Gods and saints like the Santo Nino (the Child Jesus) or the Black Nazarene, there are some that are secular and historical in nature. One of more significant of these is the Sandugo Festival.
If there's one festival that is closest to celebrating our country's close relationship and historical affinity with the Spaniards, it is the Sandugo Festival. Each year, Tagbilaran City -- a first class component city and the capital of Bohol province – holds this annual festival during the hot and humid summer month of March.
The Beginning of a Tradition
The Sandugo Festival commemorates the March 16, 1565 treaty of friendship and brotherhood between the Spanish explorer and captain general Miguel López de Legazpi and Bohol's chieftain, Datu Sikatuna. More than being the Philippines’ first international treaty, the sandugo or blood compact between the two leaders celebrates the kinship between two people of different religious beliefs, different cultures, and different nationalities.
This historic treaty of friendship was formalized and sealed through a blood compact between the Spanish conquistador and the island's leader. It is believed that the two made a cut on their arms, mixed their blood in a cup of wine, and drank it to honor their brotherhood. This symbolic bloodletting to honor and seal one’s commitment is in accordance to tribal tradition prevalent in the Philippines back then. This treaty simply means that Datu Sikatuna swore commitment and allegiance to the Spanish crown. And the blood compact sealed that commitment. The Sandugo Festival got its name from the Visayan word “dugo,” which means blood.
The treaty was believed to have been signed on the southwest coast of Bohol (the site of Tagbilaran City today), where a monument now stands. The Tagbilaran City monument not only commemorates the event, but also has a narration of the events inscribed in its plaque.
That Blood Compact marked the start of the Spaniard’s rule on the Philippine islands. This formed a relationship between Spain and the Philippines, a relationship which, several years and centuries later, turned sour and even oppressive. Nevertheless, the treaty is remembered as an important event in Philippine history that made a major impact on Filipinos then and now, in terms of religion, culture and civilization.
The Sandugo Festival Today
In true Boholano fashion, the Sandugo Festival today is celebrated through a series of various activities that last over a month. Thousands of people from all over the Philippines, as well as tourists from other countries, flock to Bohol to witness street parades, sports tournaments and cockfights, and the reenactment of the historic blood compact.
No Philippine festival will ever be complete without colorful costumes, lively music and drum beats, fireworks, solemn church services, food, and, of course, beauty pageants. The search for Ms. Bohol Sandugo, a gathering of Bohol’s prettiest ladies, is one of the highlights of the festival and has been the most awaited events year after year.
There is also a street dancing competition during the Sandugo festival, an activity that is very typical among Philippine festivals and has become a permanent fixture in most major festivals here. For the street dancing competition, each group or contingent develops its own choreography with special and bright-colored costumes. Each group of dancers has its own marching band of drums, trumpets and xylophones that provide the beat and the music. The audience is treated to beautifully synchronized dances, bursts of color and feet-stomping music as the contingents make parade on the streets.
The street dancing competition, however, has been moved to the month of July to coincide with the yearly “Tigum Bol-anon Tibuok Kalibutan.” The Tigum Bol-anon is a gathering of Boholanos from all over the world. Those Boholanos who have left the island and migrated to various parts of the globe traditionally come home to take part in this event.
Why It Is Important
The Sandugo Festival is one of the annual highlights of Bohol, which is currently growing a reputation as one of the destinations one should visit in the Philippines. Famous for its tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, beautiful beaches and other natural attractions, the province is also known for its warm climate, friendly people and its rich sense of history and culture. The Sandugo Festival, along with its other smaller and less significant festivals and fiestas, is actually a testament to the Boholano’s love for its history and its culture.