Biňan City celebrates the 12th Puto Latik Festival 2022

FOR nine long days from May 15 up to May 23, 2022, expect the colorful and progressive City of Biňan to pull out all the stops to make the “12th Puto Latik Festival 2022” the best of them all and highlight the city’s best talents, its human resource, in terms of innovation, creativity and resiliency.

And the best way to do it is through the “12th Puto Latik Festival 2022” that has captured the imagination of people all over, both domestic and foreign tourists, as the city highlights two of its most important contributions to Philippine cultural heritage: its world-renowned Puto Biňan and the Maglalatik Dance.

Mayor Dimaguila and Dr. Borja receive awards for Best Tourism Event Festival (city level) and Most Outstanding Tourism Officer of the Philippines

Bryan Jayson “BJ” Borja, head of the Biňan City Culture, History, Arts and Tourism Office (BCHATO), said that in the past 12 years, the festival has been at the forefront of tourism efforts for the province of Laguna, where the city showcases its talents, products and overall, it is a celebration of life. “The 12th Puto Latik Festival 2022 is a histo-cultural festival that focuses on the people and the talents, while also highlighting the city’s 24 barangays, their achievements and contributions to the growth of the city,” Borja explained.

Why Puto Latik?

The festival is an amalgamation of two of the city’s most important contributions to Philippine cultural history: the popular Puto Biňan, a pulverized rice cake topped with grated cheese, salted eggs and condensed milk, and the active and enthralling Maglalatik Dance, which historical books and other reference materials traces its origins in Biňan. This mesmerizing “war” dance captivates its audiences with two groups of dancers, Muslims in red trousers and Christians wearing blue trousers, who are engaged in a mock war battle scene done through dance as they fight for the prized “latik,” a residue made up of sweet oil and curd, which was a by-product of slowly simmered coconut milk.

Puto Biňan 2.0: In the efforts to revitalize the world-renowned Puto Biňan, Puto Biňan 2.0 Cook-Off Challenge serves as one of the highlights of the festival.

The quintessential puto

There are many iterations of the Puto or rice cake depending on the region or area you are in. There is the traditional puto popularly dipped in “Dinuguan,” a blood-based stew that combines pork meat and innards, and then there’s the Puto Pao, which also looks like the usual puto but with meat fillings stuffed inside like the ubiquitous siopao, hence the name. It also evolved to use other types of fillings that included fish (tuna) or even chocolate.

Puto Biňan, however, is in a class all by itself because it can stand on its own, where you can taste its goodness without the need for any more deviations or variations. Many still say that Puto Biňan is also the perfect partner to another Biňan food delicacy, the “pospas,” an iteration of the popular “lugaw” (rice porridge) and comes with chicken, tomatoes, ginger and spring onions.

Believed to have been born in the kitchen of a plain housewife, who refused to be incarcerated by a domesticated life, which in most areas mean cleaning the house, taking care of the children and of course, taking care of the husband, the Puto Biňan was created by simple individuals, they who were armed with an inventive mindset and an unbelievable mastery of their domain, which is the kitchen. Petronila “Nila” Samaniego, Filomena “Menay” Belizario Hernandez, Constancia “Nene” Mendiola Reyes, Natividiad Samson Patiño, Marciano Austria Reyes, Avelino Sawal, Pacita Bernardo de Mata, were just some of the names that concocted this soon-to-become-a-favorite meal time food item served to families during snacks. Soon enough, word spread out to the community of how good this delectable rice cake was. And in due time, the potential for business of the kitchen-borne Puto Biňan was made evident.

In all its simplicity, the Puto Biňan managed to capture the imagination of people from all walks of life, and that means up until the 21st Century. Despite the presence of more modern kitchen-concocted food ideas, the Puto Biňan continued to hold on its own, defying almost a century of existence.

The Maglalatik

For numerous schools in the metropolis, particularly the public ones, in their attempt to introduce cultural history and heritage to schoolchildren, even high school students, they never miss out on introducing the Maglalatik dance to young Filipinos despite the rising use of technology, gadgets and other electronic devices.

It will always be a joy to see young Filipinos garbed in plain white shirts (dancers in Biňan were traditionally bare chested) and wearing either red or blue trousers, holding two pieces of halved coconuts shells in both hands, and also halved coconut shells strapped to the upper parts of their chests, their hips and thighs. Dancing to a rhythmic—sometimes hypnotic beat—the groups of maglalatik dancers execute a variety of movements that are really fun to watch, complemented by cries by the dancers to simulate a “war” between Muslims and Christians. 

Pretty soon, the Maglalatik Dance became one of the main highlights of the Puto Latik Festival of Biňan, particularly during the street-dance competition, and perhaps will be for generations to come.

Pandemic strikes

The celebration of the Puto Latik Festival has been ongoing for 12 years with much aplomb and grandeur, until the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. This somewhat forced the organizers to put the festival to a halt. With restrictions brought about by community lockdowns and restrictions on mobility, there was no choice.

“Of course, the most challenging time for the festival was the pandemic, which happened at the 10th anniversary of the festival. We had to think of something so that the celebration will continue even in the presence of a dreaded disease, so what we did was to make the celebration online. Despite the lockdowns, we were the first in the country to have celebrated a festival fully online,” Borja said. 

He reasoned out that for them, whatever the challenges that came along, whether there’s a pandemic or not, the festival cannot be halted because the festival is meant for the people. “Rarely do the people get recognized, celebrated and given importance despite the fact that they are a vital element in the success of an area or a city like Biňan. We believe that you can measure the success of an area or city if you celebrate the people, the human resource, an area’s most important and vital asset.”

STREET DANCE COMPETITION. Participants don colorful costumes to celebrate Puto Latik Festival and the heritage of maglalatik dance.

Timeline of Activities

Now that mobility restrictions have relaxed and face-to-face or on-site activities are now allowed, the 12th Puto Latik Festival 2022 will proceed with much magnificence and splendor and following government-mandated health protocols.

On May 15, the town fiesta, the festival’s focus will be on the drum-beating and street dance competition where the Maglalatik dance will be highlighted featuring groups from various barangays. Why hold the street dancing on May 15th? Historically, the Maglalatik dance became also a ritualistic activity aimed at celebrating San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Biňan, which was once an agricultural town.

“Before, the Puto Latik Festival was celebrated every February but I decided to move it to May to give it an even more significant meaning. So we thought of making the festival a 9-day celebration to culminate on May 23, which is what we call as “Pistang Intsik,” a celebration of the Chinese people who live in Binan and continue to support the festival in so many ways, the fireworks celebration in particular,” Biňan City Mayor Arman Dimaguila pointed out.

Then the festival will culminate with “Puto Biňan 2.0,” a Puto Biňan cook off challenge to show the evolution of this world-renowned product. “We thought that this product should not remain just like that; it has to evolve, and the challenge was to create that continuity to make it even more appreciated by the next generation of Filipinos and get them acquainted with the heritage of Biňan,” Dimaguila added.

And reinvent the Puto Biňan was what creative Biňanenses did. One particular example, Borja said, was on the toppings of the Puto Biňan. When thinking about Puto Biňan, they believe it cannot really be just like any simple puto, that there has to be something else, a cost-efficient topping that may still allow buyers to close the box without harming the product.

Like for example last year, Borja said there were entries of Puto Biňan that contain the Labahita fish as topping; one even had suka (vinegar) in the puto. “We were really surprised. What’s vinegar doing in a Puto Biňan, which is supposedly sweet and a bit salty? But we were surprised that it turned out to be delicious. Then there’s macapuno and even chocolate toppings, or even when you cut it in half, there’s cream cheese inside. It’s such a nice activity that people look forward to. We even included some sort of nutrition element to the challenge to highlight the nutritional value of Puto Biňan.”

There will also be the Biňan Cultural Summit, which carries the theme “Pamanang Lokal: BInhi ng Kulturang Pilipino.” It will focus on the celebration of National Heritage Month, celebrated usually during May, where the talks center on cultural education.

One of the speakers, Borja said, will be Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr., former chairperson of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). There’s also the Open Flair Bartending Competition, which gave importance to the growing fondness among many towards bartending, a lucrative job for Filipinos especially overseas, and even among Hotel and Restaurant Management students in order to promote food tourism, which is also a highlight of the festival. 

Meanwhile, the winners of the City of Life Awards will be feted on May 20, 2022. It awards the city’s 10 Outstanding Business Taxpayers of 2021, while three DOT-accredited establishments will be given recognition as well.

Winners of Mr. and Ms. Biňan 2019.

There will also be beauty pageants like the Mr. and Ms. Biňan 2022 Beauty Pageant, the Ms. Biňan Gay Queen 2022, the Puto Latik Battle of the Bands, the Thanksgiving Mass in honor of San Isidro Labrador and the City Government of Biňan Employees’ Day, and finally the Biňan Grand Santacruzan, a celebration of the city’s most beautiful princesses dressed in regal garb.

It’s been two years that grand celebrations like the Puto Latik Festival took a backseat because of a debilitating pandemic, but that didn’t stop Biňanenses from keeping the spirit of the festival alive, albeit done online. Borja said it is the city’s most impressive and grandest festival that put Biňan in the country’s festival map and they will not let it go to waste. In fact, the Puto Latik Festival was even awarded by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines-Department of Tourism (ATOP-DOT) Pearl Awards, which was established to recognize exceptional tourism practices in the country, for two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019 as one of the Best Tourism Events in the Philippines under the Best Tourism Event Festival Category (city level). Even Borja himself won as Most Outstanding Tourism Officer of the Philippines that year.

“As mentioned, the festival is aimed at celebrating Biňanenses, our people and most important asset, and their significant contributions that brought the city where it is right now, with the able stewardship of our city mayor Atty. Arman Dimaguila and Vice Mayor Gel Alonte. It was a partnership, with the good results brought about by good teamwork and total team effort. It can never be done in any other way,” he concluded.

To know more about the festival, please contact BCHATO via Facebook, through (049) 5118479 or via email at binanchato@gmail.com.