The visual spectacle of the Dinagyang continues this year with the inspiring theme “One Dinagyang, One Iloilo, Halad Para Kay Señor Sto Niño.” Photo by Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay

Iloilo’s grandest annual festival is happening, but Ilonggos will watch the spectacle from their homes

The live street dancing will have to wait.   
Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay | Jan 23 2021

In the world before COVID-19, the third and fourth Sundays of January have always been blocked for numerous festivals held in honor of the Sto. Niño in the Visayas. Many if not all of the festivities have been cancelled to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. The organizers of Cebu City’s Sinulog Festival and Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival, two of the biggest annual tourists events in the country, have completely foregone all the revelry in favor of livestreamed novena masses, as they encouraged devotees to stay at home.

The digital 2021 Dinagyang is set to be hosted by 2020 Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo. The Ilongga beauty brought back the crown to Iloilo City for the first time since her historic triumph during a homecoming in November last year. Photo from Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas' Facebook account

In recent years, the local tourism office of Iloilo estimates around 1 million domestic and foreign tourists flocking to “the City of Love” to join the Dinagyang festivities. The highlight, of course, is the ati tribes competition which culminates on the fourth Sunday of January. The atis are joined by a handful of school-based groups who put on grand and show-stopping performances dedicated to the image of the Santo Niño.

“The inspiration behind the Dinagyang is the Señor Sto Niño,” Peñaflorida said in an interview. “But what has inspired us further [to pursue this endeavor] is the collective unity of the entire Ilonggo community. From the church to the local government to all our partners and stakeholders – from the artists, down to our educators, to the schools – everyone was unanimous in saying the Dinagyang as a devotion, the Dinagyang as a tradition has to continue, so this brings into essence what the Dinagyang is really about: our devotion, unity, resiliency, and the oneness of Iloilo City.”

One of the murals joining this year’s Pinta sa Kapiestahan competition as part of the 2021 Dinagyang Festival. Photo from Iloilo Festivals Foundation Inc. 

Set to be streamed live worldwide this Sunday, January 24, across several platforms, the 2021 iteration of the Dinagyang will be hosted by hometown hero and 2020 Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo. The beauty queen will be joined by actor Rocco Nacino in taking audiences on a tour of Iloilo City while introducing the performances. The duo shot their spiels at the Iloilo River Esplanade, Fort San Pedro’s sunset strip, St. Anne Parish Church, Villa Beach, and the San Jose Placer Parish Church, among others.

Iloilo’s 2021 Digital Dinagyang explores uncharted ground as it brings the revelry of the festival to a screen, hopeful it will still immerse audiences in its spectacle. Photo from Iloilo Festivals Foundation Inc. 

The entirety of the Dinagyang Festival has already been pre-recorded weeks in advance of the celebration – as live presentations are a no-go under the strict social distancing requirements of the “new normal.” All involved in the making of the Dinagyang this year were housed and placed in a “rehearsal bubble” during production. All involved were subjected to at least two RT–PCR tests in the span of three weeks while they in the process of rehearsing and shooting all content needed for the virtual performances. 

“We will showcase nothing but the best of Ilonggo talent,” said festival executive Peñaflorida.  “Our viewers will not only get to see our Dinagyang warrior’s performances, what we are giving them is an immersive experience that will show what Iloilo still has to offer.”

[The Dinagyang Festival will be livestreamed worldwide on January 24, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. (PH time), on, as well as on the official Youtube and Facebook pages of the Iloilo Dinagyang. The program will start with a virtual mass to be followed immediately by the tribe performances and “One Dinagyang” presentation.]

Here’s a link to the official trailer of the 2021 Dinagyang Festival: