Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Manila’s Who’s Who join Bacolod elite for MassKarade Ball

'It's been amplified in scale,' said festival head Jojie Dingcong—with three weekends of sports festival, a food crawl, cultural shows and socials

Alliance Global CEO Kevin Tan and Bacolod Mayor Albee Benitez

In the halcyon days of Negros, the hacenderos customarily wore sharkskin suits while the ladies were in elaborate baro’t saya. As dress codes became casual as a result of the urbanized lifestyle, the affluent Negrenses adopted the uniform—an easy shirt, jeans, and rubber shoes.

In the MassKarade Ball that concluded the three-week-long Masskara festivities, that ran until Oct 22, 2023, a non-tradition in Bacolod, Mayor Alfredo “Albee” Bantug Benitez chucked in his polo and denim for a barong that night.  Say MassKara, and it conjures images of inasal stalls, drinking sprees, and dirty ice cream—not formal table service in a hotel.

Mayor Albee Benitez and wife Nikki

When the MassKara fiesta was revived last year, festival chairman Jose Felix “Jojie” Dingcong  created a reason to stir up more media mileage. He invited the glam crowd of Manila, who paid their way, to come to Bacolod, enjoy the ball, and sit as judges at the Electric Parade of barangay floats and the street dancing competition.

Jojie Dingcong flanked by Carl and Pat Fider

“It’s the first time we’ve had the Who’s Who of Manila joining the Who’s Who of Bacolod while  experiencing the food and culture,” said Benitez.

Last year, MassKarade Ball lured nearly a hundred guests from Manila, including high society A-List Maricris Zobel and Doody Tuason, to the venue, SMX Convention Center. This time, some 50 visitors from Manila and the Negrense elite partied at Sugarland Hotel, dubbed the city’s version of the historic Manila Hotel.

Owned by the Yansons, the billionaires who own the country’s largest transit line, Sugarland is known for good food and service. The Manila crowd was dressed to the nines, while a few channeled the casual and nonchalant hacendero as a kind of reverse snobbery. As in the sit-down affairs in Manila, the guests routinely switched name cards to be seated at the same tables as their friends.

Tim Yap left the media table to join the likes of Paris-based bon vivant Edouard Garcia and his cousin, Monaco-based financial consultant Eduardo “Nene” Lacson.

Tim Yap

Nene Lacson and JM Rodriguez

Cultural Center of the Philippines vice-chair Margie Moran Floirendo arrived earlier to be with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, which performed at the SM Mall. (The day after the ball, she headed the panel of Manila judges in the Electric Parade of floats.) She was in the company of Carla Tengco at the table.

Margie Floirendo and Carla Tengco

The barong-clad Jonathan Matti, who has been working on renovations in and around Malacañan, walked around with his signature LL Bean canvas tote.  Then there were the friends—Julie Jalandoni Boschi, Mia Borromeo, Fe Rodriguez and Tina Cuevas.

Jonathan Matti

Julie Jalandoni Boschi, Mia Borromeo, Glenna Fernan-Guidicelli, Tina Cuevas, Iris Fernan-Arcenas and Fe Rodriguez

The festival sponsors took the tables close to the stage. Harold Geronimo, SVP and head of communications and media relations for Megaworld Corp,  looked dapper in a black suit with an asymmetrical white lapel. His boss, Alliance Global CEO Kevin Tan, came with wife Michelle, and his friend, club owner JP Reyes.  Steven Tan, president of SM Malls, used the trip as an opportunity to check out the other malls in Western Visayas. He headed the judges’ panel in the street dancing contest.

Alliance Global CEO Kevin Tan and GP Reyes

SM Malls president Steven Tan, and Alliance Global CEO Kevin Tan and wife Michelle

Dingcong acknowledged beauty industry heiress Cristalle Belo Henares-Pitt who came with her husband Justin and children Hunter and Sienna. He said that despite the fact that Belo Medical Group didn’t have a presence in Bacolod, the company still gave a sizeable contribution.

Justin and Cristalle Belo-Henares Pitt

Justin and Cristalle Pitt with Pepper Teehankee

Marilyn and Steven Gan

A table was devoted to network executives led by Annette Gozon-Abrogar, SVP for GMA Network.

While Manileños are notorious for chatting and looking at their mobile phones even during performances, Bacolod’s local elite was quiet and politely paid attention to the show.

The program presented the history of Negros in pageantry—from the tribes, the rise and fall of the sugar barons, the  origins of MassKara, to how the festival raised community morale.

Tito Sotto and Katrina Ponce Enrile

“The MassKarade was a welcome party for the guests from Manila and a fundraiser,” said Dingcong. “It’s inclusive. We’ve sold some dinner tickets to the public for P5,000 per head or P50,0000 for a table. But this is the province. They don’t want to dress up. But the Chinese community and the OFWs had formals made for this event,”

The guests were given fancy masks, produced by small enterprises. “We help the arts and crafts community by buying giveaways from them,” said Dingcong. Festival t-shirts and other merchandise sold in malls carried the official MassKara logo to unify the city, he added.

“MassKara has been amplified in scale,” explained Dingcong, referring to three weekends of a sports festival, a food crawl, and cultural shows and socials. Pocket events by different organizers dotted the city.

“The nice thing is that everyone earns—from the hotels and restaurants to the fastfood. The beer consumption goes up,” he said.

The MassKara festival itinerary included two lunches with the First Lady at the Yansons’ Hacienda Bubog and the Electric Parade and Street Dancing Competition and Festival Finale. However, others skipped some of the socials and did their own heritage tours in Silay, meals with Bacolodnon friends, and food crawls in Bacolod.

They experienced the post-pandemic optimism of Bacolod. “Mayor Albee plans to make the city a mini Singapore—clean, green and organized. It’s about better quality of life,” said Dingcong.

Mikee and Sheila Romero

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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