The fireworks display at Balayong Park coincided with the lighting of a 60-foot high Christmas Tree.

The city government unveiled on Wednesday night a 63-hectare green park in Barangay Sta. Monica inspired by the iconic Balayong tree, an endemic tropical version of Japan’s famous Sakura tree or Cherry Blossoms.

Mayor Lucilo Bayron led the red-letter event on the city’s official calendar. It was highlighted by the lighting of a 60-foot Christmas tree and the commissioning of an expansive waterpark.

A controlled crowd of less than a thousand residents congregated around the venue for a musical concert, a fireworks spectacle, and the activation of the waterpark. In keeping with social distancing protocols, organizers tried to limit the number of onlookers by handing out stubs for those allowed entry to the venue.

A crowd lines up to get access to the Balayong Park launching venue. City authorities had issued stubs to regulate the volume of the crowd.

The event replaced the traditional giant Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, previously attended by thousands of local residents and held at the Baywalk park on the other side of the city.

This year’s Baywalk Christmas tree, which was also lighted sans traditional ceremonies, was only seven meters tall, a downgrade from its giant predecessors that towered at over a hundred feet.

A heavy rainstorm, however, forced organizers to abort the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Balayong Park. The unanticipated downpour also drenched the pyrotechnic display, blanketing the crowd in attendance with a thick haze.

The interactive waterpark, one of the main highlights of the event.

In his speech, Bayron acknowledged a group of business establishments that he said shouldered the cost of the pyro-musical show, a tradition that goes along with the annual tree lighting event.

“Ngayong gabi, December 1, ang Apuradong Administrasyon ay naghanda ng five events. Kanina nagkaroon tayo ng maiksing Christmas concert — kasalukuyan ngayon ang Mayor’s Christmas and New Year’s Message, after which the lighting of our community Christmas tree followed by a grand pyromusical display paid for by local businessmen, at ang finale, the commissioning of the Puerto Princesa interactive water park,” he said.

Bayron said this year’s giant Christmas tree has a foundation that can support a 150-foot Christmas tree “maybe in the following years”.

“Ang pagpapa-ilaw ng ating Christmas tree ngayong gabi ay hudyat ng ating pagdiriwang ng ating kapistahan, ng pasko, pagsalubong bagong taon, at pagsimula ng gradual reopening ng ating local economy at ng ating tourism industry,” he added.

The pergola-styled entrance to the Balayong Park.

Despite the rain, however, the crowd was back in a festive mood when the interactive water park’s lights and fountains were switched on. They cheered for the colorful water and light display. Announcers during the event also stated that the water park will be open every night to the public starting Wednesday. (with reports from Patricia Laririt and Aira Genesa Magdayao)