Balsas (bamboo rafts) used to make splashes and waves in Iloilo River. That was 15 years ago when the waterway at the heart of the city was dying and going down the drain.

The exciting balsa race was then the brainchild of Ilonggo artist and UP in the Visayas professor Ed Defensor, brother of Gov. Arthur Defensor.

“This emanated from an idea of mine to call attention to the sad state of the Iloilo River,” stressed Defensor on his Facebook post of old photos of the balsa racing event.

Glorious city

“Unfortunately, the city administration at the time couldn’t care about the Iloilo River, just as it didn’t care about so many things in the lives of the people of this glorious city,” he recalled.

“Karera sa Balsa” at Iloilo River was celebrated for several years starting in 1997 by first, the UPV Division of Humanities, and later, by the Silak Fraternity and Silab Sorority, Defensor noted.

This time, Defensor throws the challenge to UPV’s student organizations to host the same event.

Clean, beautiful river

“Now that the Iloilo River is clean and beautiful – thanks basically to the efforts of Senator Franklin Drilon, Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog and Congressman Jerry Treñas – perhaps a student org of UPV can now revive the race,” he suggested.

“With the present leadership, it can be done again and a UPV student org can sponsor this again since your university lies just beside the Iloilo River,” encouraged Defensor.

New Iloilo River

“It can be implemented, in close coordination with designated city officials, to become one of the festivals related to the New Iloilo River,” he proposed.

Lin-ay sang Balsa

Defensor explained the concept is very simple:

1.) uniform balsas will be manned by a specified number of people and will compete for the “fastest balsa” prize;

2.) balsas will be decorated and adorned in such a manner as to compete for the “most beautiful, most original, or most indigenous;” and

3.) a beautiful Lin-ay will also adorn each balsa and will compete for the “Lin-ay Sang Balsa” prize.

“When we implemented this, the starting point was at the bridge near Gaisano City and ended at the bank fronting UPV. We could not go any further since there were lots of obstacles which prevented us from going,” he said.

River Esplanade

“But now with the new look of the river we can end up now at the Molo bridge, and with the Esplanade, we can now have more viewing areas, and maybe a party after that right there or a concert to end the affair,” he added.

Going back to native fest

“If this can be supported by the city officially this can become a major festival of the Iloilo River. And just apt, because balsas are very indigenous to Iloilo – I think it’s time that we go back to some native festivals,” Defensor exclaimed.

Gigantic historical sculpture

“I think they should also consider the culminating activity for this, the awarding ceremony and then probably a free concert in the Esplanade, which will be beautiful at the time – which will really be attractive if a gigantic historical group sculpture is found somewhere near it,” he added.

Official support

“Definitely, I will support this. It’s official – the city will adopt and hold this activity on August 18. We shall open the esplanade on the same day with a concert from a Manila band and fireworks in the evening,” Mabilog agreed.

The mayor said they are now officially open to those who want to partner or host the activity with the City Government. Interested parties may submit formal letter of intent to mayor’s office at City Hall, Plaza Libertad.

“Oh, ideas are a plenty with the new Iloilo River! So how about it, guys?  See you at the Iloilo River!” said the excited Defensor.

Photo credits: Ed Defensor

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