MANILA, Philippines – The Negros Trade Fair is having its 33rd run on September 26 to 30, making it the longest-running trade fair the country has seen. Its success could be attributed to a number of things: the variety of its offerings, the products that feel all the more special because they’re handade, a central venue with heavy weekend foot traffic.
But if the people behind the fair could peg their success to one thing – and they have – it’s the spirit of Bayanihan that they say is central to Negrense culture – the very thing that birthed the fair in the first place.
In 1985, when global sugar prices dropped, Negros – where the economy rests in sugar – was left in crisis. Not about to leave the plantation workers unpaid, 14 women, housewives of the sugar hacienderos, took matters into their own hands and enrolled in courses in DTI Manila to learn how to manufacture handicrafts.
After bringing their newly-learned crafting skills back to Negros, they were then able to manufacture small batches of handmade products, which they then brought to Manila and sold at the now-defunct Quad parking lot in what would become the first Negros Trade Fair.
“It started in a very diffucult period. Sugar was really down. We couldn’t really pay our workers, and then the housewives decided to band together and then decided to do crafts,” said Nena Vargas-Tantoco, a Negrense herself and one of the fair’s most dedicated patrons.
“Products don’t come from the air. Products take a lot of work. Haciendas don’t come out of nothing. It takes also a lot of work. We can’t leave anybody behind and that’s I think one of the stories of Negros, because in Negros it’s really a family,” added Ina Gaston, president of the Association of Negros Producers (ANP), which organizes the Negros Trade Fair.
Ina, along with other members of the ANP was speaking to the press, exhibtors, and patrons at the launch of the 2018 trade fair, which was held at Antonio’s in Tagaytay, a restaurant owned and run by another Negrense, Chef Tony Boy Escalante.
“The best way to describe it is bayanihan, the Ilonggo way,” Ina said.
Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice
No doubt, due to the collaborative efforts of the fair’s supporters and organizers, it has now grown from a humble bazaar to full-blown market, with a wide range of exhibitors with enough product offerings that will probably help you tick off a considerable chunk of your holiday gift list.
The trade fair’s theme this year is "Sweet Talk: Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice," which places focus on the food products and items that use sugar components and byproducts. It’s a tribute to the province which, after all, is known as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines.”