Wednesday, February 28, 2024

At what cost?

the Weekly Sillimanian | September 6, 2023

What are you willing to pay for a good time?

To around 95% of the social media users who gave the Hibalag festival’s “budget-friendliness” parameter a failing grade in the Weekly Sillimanian’s Sillimanians Speak last week, the price for this year’s celebrations may have well been far steeper than most students could swallow.

But so what? 

Inflation has increased prices beyond our normal perception, affecting the cost of food, products, services, and experiences at the Hibalag booth area. With the concessionaires’ rent and markup to profit playing a crucial role in sustaining any successful Hibalag run, it also means higher selling prices. Accordingly, the choice of concessionaires must also appeal to attendees inside and outside the university, even if that pushes price ranges up.

So, does that mean we have to suck it up and accept that events like Hibalag are just not for everyone, especially those unable to pay the price for it? 

Perhaps—if Hibalag was not a school event.

But since it is, from the perspective of both funding and the spirit of the event, Hibalag should primarily cater to the students. 

While concessionaires have admittedly made up a sizable portion of Hibalag funding every time the festival is held, what about the allocated Hibalag funds collected from student government fees turned over each year? What about the organization and booth registration fees paid for by student organizations for their members to fully experience what Hibalag has to offer? What about the council fees and resources used to construct the booths and execute gimmicks to ensure Hibalag genuinely feels like Hibalag?

Hibalag has always been a celebration—and result—of the student body’s hard work and passion to celebrate the university’s founding. While access to the booths and most events is free, the thought that such a significant portion of the Hibalag experience is locked behind paywalls significantly higher than what a regular student budget could surmount is not only disheartening, but plain disrespectful to the student body’s enormous contribution to the event’s renown.

What kind of Hibalag makes students spend most of their time wondering where they can afford to eat? What kind of Hibalag feels like it caters more toward alumni, tourists, and visitors rather than the very people who built it from the ground up and organized its activities?

What kind of Hibalag spirit can exist when students can essentially be excluded from parts of the Hibalag festivities—all because of their financial capacity?

This stand is not to say that anyone is directly—or maliciously—at fault. Commercialization of Hibalag has long been a perspective, more or less accepted as fact; although unsurprisingly, because of how much the event’s nature makes it a logistical nightmare.

So are the festival’s high prices something this year’s organizers can be blamed for? Not necessarily. 

Does that mean it’s okay and there is nothing to be done about it? No, and it should never have been that way from the start.

This is a call to future organizers of the Hibalag festival to exhaust all efforts to find ways for Hibalag to truly cater to the student body—including their budgets. Are there other money-generating methods that will allow the lessening of rent so that large markups by concessionaires can be minimized? Could we tap into more student-budget-friendly businesses instead of more established ones? Could enrolled students get special discounts from such concessionaires? 

The solutions will likely be more complex than these, and the problem of high prices in Hibalag will never be easily solved—but we from the Weekly Sillimanian believe that it is what is owed to the students. Organizers, in collaboration with the administration, should do whatever it takes to rectify this situation rather than allow it to fester for future years. 

Otherwise, if we continue to prioritize the grandeur of the event over its accessibility and inclusivity, we may end up paying a price far more expensive than anticipated: the students’ unwavering support.

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