Silay City is known as the “Paris of Negros” due to its collection of beautiful, stately heritage mansions. But the coastal city is also slowly becoming popular for another homegrown attraction. Located on a five-hectare site inside Silay’s Barangay Guinhalaran is the first Negrense-made and Negrense-inspired outdoor theme park called Magikland.
If the name sounds like the title of a fantasy movie, it’s because the theme park was conceptualized alongside a movie created by the late director Peque Gallaga who is known for the fantasy adventure films “Magic Temple” (1996) and “Magic Kingdom” (1997).
In a 2020 interview published in Ricky Lo’s Philstar column, the acclaimed filmmaker said “Magikland,” the 2020 film directed by Christian Acuña, has the same genes as his two previous films. “The theme park inspired the movie and the movie, in turn, inspired the park,” Gallaga told Lo.
The Negrense director, who also made the acclaimed “Oro, Plata, Mata” (also set in Negros), recalled being invited to a meeting by the people behind Aton Land & Leisure, Inc. during the brainstorming period for the park’s theme. He remembered Reynaldo Bantug, the current CEO of Aton Land, was very clear about what he wanted Magikland to be—“a total Pinoy fantasy.”
In an interview with ANCX, Bantug shares that it was Atty. Simplicio Palanca, a well-known real estate developer, who provided the inspiration for Magikland. Before Palanca—or Uncle Sam to many—got into real estate, the guy was into the business of entertainment. “He had a chain of movie theaters in Negros and he always brought in attractions,” recalls Bantug. “He brought in stage shows in the ‘50s, mga zarzuela. In the ‘60s and the ‘70s, he brought London and the Shaun Circuses.” The old man’s dream was for Negrenses to experience world-class rides without having to go to Manila or abroad.
Bantug and company started toying with the idea of the amusement park in 2010. “We wanted to come up with something unique, something that will represent Negros,” remembers the CEO. So he tapped his long-time friend Gallaga, who is from Bacolod, to conceptualize a vision for the park.
They combed through the history of Negros and the Visayas, and the myth of the bakunawa stood out. Bantug says the bakunawa is a moon-eating dragon believed to bring about earthquakes, eclipses and storms. “Way before the Spanish came to the Philippines, that legend was already being told by our ancestors,” he says.
Gallaga worked with the theme, but his wildly imaginative mind put a twist to it. He made up characters, gods, and fantasy creatures. “Magikland is a happy place where the people live peacefully,” Bantug says, sharing the story concept that jumpstarted the theme park. “The people there were making toys to make children across the world happy. But the land was invaded by an evil dragon named Mogrodoor. He was able to capture Magikland and rule over it.”
The princess of the kingdom, Princess Diya, sent a message to ask help from the outside world and four heroes responded—Kit Kanlaon, Mara Marapara, Boy Bakunawa and Pat Patag, names that pay homage to the local landscape of Negros.
Bakunawa the dragon is the main god in Magikland. But there are also minor gods, which were inspired by Negros’ fauna—Idik-idik (Visayan warty pig), the Usasa (deer), and Pawi (turtle). “We’re the first in the Philippines to fully adapt a regional theme for its park,” Bantug says with pride.
Gallaga, whose Facebook alias was Nelson Bakunawa, was requested to produce a movie using the concept as a way to introduce the theme park. This became “Magikland” one of the contenders in the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival. The movie had a budget of almost 100 million, and is 95 percent animation and high-tech visual/special effects.
“The characters in the movie are being slowly presented in the theme park, and hindi pa kumpleto. We’re doing it stage by stage,” says Bantug. “Now, you see Bakunawa in the park but you don’t see Mogrodoor yet. Wala pa ang evil dragon.”
While the amusement park’s theme is local, the rides were sourced from leading suppliers across the globe, mostly from Europe. “We have the highest ferris wheel in the Visayas. We have a twister coaster, which is the only one of its kind in the Philippines,” says Bantug. Aton spent a total of 600 million to build the park. They opted for European rides despite the steep prices, he says, because they didn’t want to compromise safety and quality. “We have the same supplier as Donald Trump’s Coney Island. The rides that you’ll see in Coney Island, you can also find here.”
The park took two years to finish construction. It had a soft opening in September 2019 but Covid hit in March 2020 forcing Aton to stop operations. The park is open to the public again but only from Friday to Sunday. Negros is still on Alert level 2 but the provincial government is hoping this will go down to Level 1 come March 16.
Bantug says there’s still more work to be done for the park. “We haven’t finished yet. It’s an ongoing process,” he says. But their vision for Magikland is to be the center of the tourism zone in the province of Negros. “Our goal is for the theme park to be experienced not only by the locals but to also attract outside tourists, to catalyze the tourism sector in Negros.”
The two showmen who provided the inspiration for the project, Atty. Simplicio Palanca and Peque Gallaga, may have passed on but through Magikland, their creative visions live on. As they say in Negros, “Amo na ya!”
Photos courtesy of Magikland