Story by Chrishandra Sebastiampillai with pictures from

Sixteen School of Arts and Social Sciences students journeyed to to Iloilo, the Philippines, to study the social and cultural contexts of the annual Dinagyang Festival - a street religious and cultural festival held in the honour of Señor Santo Niño, the Filipino representation of the baby Jesus.

Led by Senior Lecturer Dr Yeoh Seng Guan, the students also visited various communities, including the urban poor and the indigenous people – the Ati. They were able to visit locations as diverse as a landfill and several government relocation projects of the poor communities of Iloilo. From the Ati, students learned of the challenges to their claim for the right to stay on their ancestral land both from local landowners and the authorities, as well as their wish to be able to send their children to university.  

Aside from this, students had the opportunity to follow the preparations of the eventual champions of the Dinagyang Festival- Tribu Panayanon, a team from a high school in Iloilo. Given full access to the team during rehearsals, Monash students conducted interviews with all those involved in the team- students, choreographer, musicians, prop grips and even the school’s Principal.  The study trip ran from January 19 to 31, and was hosted by University of Philippines Visayas (UPV). Student travellers were lodged within the campus grounds, and were accompanied by five student guides under the leadership of Dr Rosalie Arcala-Hall, who assisted Dr. Yeoh in the planning of the trip.

Two Monash University Sunway campus students, Lestari Hairul and Sheril A. Bustaman were the proud curators of a Malaysian film festival held in the UPV Cinematheque. Besides screening films by veterans Amir Muhammad, Tan Chui Mui and Azharr Rudin, they also showcased two short films they produced as part of the “Monash's Origins: Omnibus Film Project” under the guidance of the School’s Filmmaker-in-Residence Mr Azharr Rudin- ‘Cassandra’ and ‘I AM’. The films were chosen for their ability to impart markers of Malaysian culture to the Filipino audience. The films were well received by the audience and sparked off a lively discussion about the Independent film scene in Malaysia. 

For more information, pictures and daily videos on the trip to Iloilo, visit

The video team of the study trip will be producing a documentary on the trip, which will be screened at Monash University Sunway campus later this year.