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The Beguiling Tuna Festival

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The Beguiling Tuna Festival

September 29, 2010, 2:38pm
Tuna float (photo by Henrylito D. Tacio)
Tuna float (photo by Henrylito D. Tacio)

Tucked in the mouth of the Sarangani Bay on the southern edge of Mindanao, General Santos City used to be a backward fishing port before foreign buyers discovered the high quality and quantity of the tuna catch in the 1970s. A 20-year boom followed, with major canneries and export markets to Europe and the United States established.

“What makes General Santos unique is that the city is near tuna-rich fishing grounds like Moro Gulf, Sulu Sea, Mindanao Sea, and adjacent Celebes Sea,” explains Rienje B. Andrada, a fish port staff member.  “We have fair weather zone which is not normally visited by devastating typhoons or seasonal adverse weather patterns.”

Today, the tuna industry contributes about 60 percent to the economy of the city that was named thrice by the Department of Trade and Industry as one of the country’s “most competitive.” So much so that in 1999, the city government, with official development assistance from Japan, built a 36-hectare General Santos Fish Port Complex that is now the country’s second largest – after Navotas.

The tuna has been commercially promoted as being the “chicken of the sea” because of its commonness and popularity in people’s diets worldwide.  Tuna meat is rich in omega-3 (polyunsaturated) fatty acids that build up high-density lipids or “good cholesterol.”  Several studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of heart disease, improve the immune system, cure varied inflammatory conditions, ease the pain caused by arthritis, and help normalize blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Gensan – as most locals call their city – is noted for the powerful swimmer yellowfin tuna, which rarely ventures into dirty and murky water, making it one of the safest fishes to eat.  This species has a bright red flesh with meaty flavor.  It is so versatile that you can grill, bake, broil, or sauté it.

Sashimi-grade tuna are exported to Japan, Canada, United States, Hong Kong, and Korea.  These are also sold to leading hotels in Metro Manila, Cebu, and other parts of the country.  In the Philippines, tuna is the main ingredient of kinilaw.

Today, Gensan is known as the tuna capital of the Philippines.  To pay proper homage to the city’s number one industry, the Tuna Festival came into existence.

But unlike more prominent Philippine festivals which started out as an output of a planned concept, the Tuna Festival sprung from a spontaneous idea. In 1998, during the 30th City Charter Anniversary, the General Santos City Tourism Association – a consortium of hotels, resorts, restaurants, travel agencies, and other tourism-related establishments – staged an event that showcased tuna cuisine through culinary competitions, exhibits, and other activities. 
Adelebert W. Antonio, who was the mayor at that time, thought that the theme could actually be the basis for a festival.

Today, the Tuna Festival is one of the grandest and liveliest festivals in the country.  Generally, it is celebrated during the first week of September, but this year, the festivity was moved to the fourth week under the new administration of Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

Among the activities during the Tuna Festival were the Tuna Culinary Skills Competition, the Cheer Dance Competition, Skim Boarding Competition, Langoy/Bugsay Marathon Challenge, the Fish Dance Competition, and the Al Fresco Sashimi Night (where you can satisfy your taste buds with the various tuna delicacies).

However, the last three days had the most number of activities.  On September 24, there was the grand finals of the Gensan Pop Idol held in one of the city’s popular malls.  “Originally, Gensan’s Pop Idol was a Tuna Festival event until it was moved to December’s Pasko sa Gensan celebration,” explained Orman Manansala, the person in-charge of this year’s activities.  “This time around, we brought back the ultimate singing talent search.”

The following day, thousands of the generals (yes, the name used for the locals of the city) flocked to the KCC Convention Center to watch the finals of the pageant show, Mr. and Ms. Gensan 2010.  Genevieve Mutia and Jenel Labiana, both students from the Mindanao State University, emerged as winners.

The Mardi Gras Street Dancing Competition made the participants kick, jump, strut, and dance to the beat of “Whoa Gensan!,” an original music performed by the Centerpoint, a band of six young musicians from Gensan that plays positive modern rock music.

Fifteen schools competed against each other to win in one of the two categories: elementary and high school.  As street dancing was the most anticipated, thousands of people flocked to the Pioneer Avenue as early as seven in the morning, although the contest started at nine in the morning.

Also at nine in the morning, at the other side of the city, tuna floats paraded as people watched in awe at the creative forms and diverse colors of the competing floats.  The floats were inspired by the idea that Gensan is one of the largest exporters of sushi and sashimi-grade tuna to North America, Europe, and Japan.

In the afternoon, the focal presentation of Mardi Gras was done at the Gensan Gym in Lagao.

This year’s theme of the Tuna Festival was “Go Global GenSan: We Are Ready for the World.”  It was their way of saying that they were geared up to show the world their renowned talents and skills in the different spectacular events.

Go, go Gensan!