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Olongapo City’s version of the German worldwide phenomena “Oktoberfest” took place this weekend. As the signature event of the city (together with the City Fiesta which takes place every December), the Olongapo City Mardi Gras was a three-day event celebrating the best in musical and dance attractions by featuring some of the most acclaimed bands, performers and entertainment personalities in the country.

Initiated in 1981 by then-City Mayor Richard J. Gordon in order to promote businesses in the city, the first Mardi Gras in Olongapo was quite a disorganized affair. There were no stages set up along the Ramon Magsaysay Avenue and each of the numerous bars along it just had their most popular bands and performers go out in the streets to perform their acts while Filipinos and Americans walked around.

Then-City Mayor Richard J. Gordon during the first Olongapo City Mardi Gras back in 1981

According to previous MOCCI (Metro Olongapo Chamber of Commerce) President Aurelio “Bong” Pineda, it was much easier to book a lot of big name bands during those days. Back then the market was composed of Americans on liberty and music enthusiast, and patrons never seemed to run out.

Unfortunately, the yearly event only lasted for so long. It wasn’t until the administration of Mayor Kate H. Gordon in the 1990s that the Mardi Gras was re-implemented.

The Olongapo City Marching Band parading across a crowded Magsaysay Avenue in 1984

 

However, the re-launch of the event did not turn out well. Although it was well-intentioned, the Mardi Gras of those years weren’t very well organized. In their enthusiasm to promote participation, the prizes that were set by the organizers for contests were quite extravagant which ultimately proved to be detrimental because they could not manage to recoup the cost in the end.

It was not until 1995 that the management of the event was transferred from the city government to a private organization. The Olongapo Business Club (OBC), the precursor to MOCCI, took over the reins and organized the event from that year on.

Nationally acclaimed celebrities such as Marco Sison (rightmost) join in on the festivities

 

Initially, the first few Mardi Gras spearheaded by the OBC did not turn out to be very profitable either. Compounding the issue was the fact that many of the nearby businesses along Magsaysay complained about the commotion caused by the festivities and the interruption it caused to the flow of foot traffic to and from their establishments.

It was a very difficult situation for everyone involved during those years but eventually, things started to change for the better.

With the experience they had acquired in organizing the event, MOCCI was able to streamline the flow of participants and establish strong, mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors. So much so, that they had to limit the amount of sponsorships they accepted for the event.

Even the establishments along the avenue came to realize that despite the pandemonium caused by the street parties, the whole event ultimately bolstered their own revenue. The business opportunities that were resulted from the activities became so appealing that stall rentals in the venue sells out as early as four to five months before the event.

And eventually, the group managed to recoup the losses they took and even settle some of the arrears they had, managing to make enough profit to the point that they can donate back to the city. An interesting tidbit is that the three day event easily out-earns Olongapo’s other major and much extensive event which is the City Fiesta.

The process of improving the event and transforming it into the version most people are familiar with nowadays however, resulted in a somewhat problematic situation.

The amount of people who participated in the festivities continued to increase year after year. It had reached the point that the organizers were so nervous about the volume of attendees packed within the venue that they purposefully had to stop efforts to promote the yearly event.

But despite spending virtually nil on promoting the activity, the decision hardly made a dent on the amount of people who patronized the Mardi Gras.

As such, it was not until recently that the group decided to re-market the event, only this time in a platform they had not yet ventured in. With the amount of people that can be reached and the comparatively cheaper cost of marketing the event through it, the social media landscape offered a very efficient way of spreading word about the festival to a new generation of party-goers.

With the increased revenue of the Mardi Gras allowing their group to give back to the city, MOCCI supports several advocacies in the city. Primarily, they tend to cater specifically to requests from the city government.

In fact, the musical instruments used by the Olongapo City Marching Band, who showcased their talents during the Mardi Gras motorcade, were all supplied and donated by MOCCI. In addition, the Chamber has also donated vehicles (A Toyota Mirage and several motorcycles) to the city’s Office of Traffic Management and Public Safety. Another beneficiary of theirs is the James L. Gordon General Hospital which was a special case. Instead of donating after they have received profits from the Mardi Gras as they usually do, they funded the improvements of the hospital facility worth PhP 280,000 out of their own pockets, confident that they will recover that cost from this year’s event.

Also a recipient of their charity work is the regional office of the Philippine National Police (PNP) which they furnished with a full set of working computers. Throughout the years, the MOCCI has had a close working relationship with the heads of the PNP in the area – most of who have gone on to higher positions within their ranks. Notable personage from these officers includes Senior Supt. Christopher E.  Tambungan, Regional Director Oscar D. Albayalde, Chief Supt. Abelardo Villacorta – all of whom were ardent supporters of the musical festival.

 

In point of fact, more than 200 police personnel and reserve officers are deployed throughout the event vicinity which is important for security and the smooth flow of traffic – an issue that is somewhat of a sore topic among residents of the city during the three days that the Mardi Gras is held.

And so as preparation, a dry run of the event was help a day before the start of the activity. Unfortunately, the mock activity still caused a minor traffic disturbance but since the event only happens once a year, cleanliness of the venue during and after the event is prioritized, and since majority of the city residents take part in the festivities, the organizers may as well get a well-earned free pass.

An interesting tid bit is MOCCI’s choice to hold the three-day event from Thursday to Saturday instead of the more traditional Friday to Saturday trend. According to Mr. Pineda, this was so that people will still have their Sunday free. The event was scheduled intentionally close to the end of October to coincide with the semester break of majority of colleges and universities whose student population comprise a hefty portion of the attendees. Having Sunday free of activities will enable people to have one day of rest before they attend to their observance of All Souls Day, which often turns into an extended family affair.

 

MOCCI members Hale Saclao and Bong Pineda (former chamber president) sit down with MoreFunPH to discuss their vision for the Olongapo City Mardi Gras

So what does the future hold for the Olongapo City Mardi Gras and the MOCCI? According to Mr. Pineda, their greatest challenge is to entice more businessmen in the city to join their organization. Their target is to reach and surpass the membership of other prominent chambers of commerce in the country such as Cebu City’s more than 800 members and Naga City’s over a thousand members.

As for the Mardi Gras itself, it is the hope of the organization that the event will continue far into the future. Under the leadership of Ruben de Guzman, a major innovator and driving force behind the past three Mardi Gras, the group will ensure that the Mardi Gras only gets better with each passing year. To be sure, MOCCI takes pride in being closely associated with the event and considers themselves fortunate for being entrusted with managing the festivities for more than 12 years. Moreover, they take full satisfaction from knowing that the donations they make from proceeds from the Mardi Gras go into improving and developing their beloved city.

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