Gensan’s Tuna Festival and A Generals’ Story
I wasn’t planning for a second (actually the third) visit to General Santos City in the span of three months time (like I’m there every month!), but blogger Avel Manansala of Gensan.com convinced me otherwise. I’m no stranger to this city that I fell in love with for so long since the college days, but this latest visit just went a notch higher: Defied gravity four times, pigged out for three days, camwhoring galore, and of course celebrating one of the two big fiestas of the City by the Bay, the Tuna Festival.
In its 13th edition, Gensan’s Tuna Festival edition is more than a week celebration of General Santos City’s charter anniversary—or cityhood. Spanning from late August and culminating with the float parade (and supposedly street dance competition) on the 5th of September, the charter day itself, Tuna Festival is also a way of celebrating Gensan’s culture, and its economic prime mover—the tuna fishery and processing industry. After all, the city’s booming economy owes itself to the catch of the sea and the ever famed yellow-fin tuna.
The float parade was supposed to start at around 5PM with a street dance, yet I was frustrated that the street dancing competition came in early in the afternoon and not along with the neon lights of the tuna floats. That afternoon also, thousands gather at Pioneer Avenue to wait for the floats to come—and they’ve waited and waited…until the floats arrived at around 8PM, three hours after it set off at Lagao. It could’ve been better if they have the street dance parade and the float parade merged and make a shorter route so that people may not wait or be bored, that’s just my two cents worth.
Yet despite the setback, the floats were still impressive enough to be seen by night. Testifying the talent the Generals have. Lights and revelry that night!
A Generals’ Story: From Dust-diangas to Tuna Capital of the Philippines and beyond
General Santos City, or Gensan for short, was once a backdoor, dusty town in the south. It was the “Pioneer Settler’s port of call” since it is the entrance for the Koronadal Valley Settlements where Christian settlers of Luzon and the Visayas landed and was led by General Paulino Santos in 1939. Other than that, it is a dustbowl with not much activity to mention, hence mocked sometimes as “Dust-Diangas” (Dadiangas was the original name of the city center).
Because of its strategic location and an agricultural potential however, investors came in gradually, notably Dole Inc. Because of hard work, the Dadiangasnons or now known as “Generals,” the city by the bay flourished and in September 1968, it became a full-fledged city in the province of South Cotabato.
Because of its proximity to the rich fishing grounds, Gensan became an instant superstar for the foreign market, especially the Japanese who are into high-grade yellow fin tuna. The moniker “Tuna Capital of the Philippines” progressively grew as investments in the fisheries sector poured into the city. And by the late 1990s, when Gensan Fishport was opened, it has sealed its place in the Philippine economy.
Today, the tuna industry employs thousands of workers, and drives a multi-billion economy in this southern city in Mindanao.
However in recent years, the industry’s growth has been stale and in some cases declining gradually. Due to stricter impositions of fishing tuna in the international waters and a depleting supply, the Generals once again face a challenge to go beyond the bay. Knowing the Generals, they have outsmarted the odds of establishing a city in a dustbowl. Hence, the thrust for diversification is on full speed.
I remember Mayor Custodio saying, “let’s go beyond the bay!” I guess we’ll be seeing another bloom in Gensan’s industry. It’s not just tuna, it’s not just only Pacquiao, Shamcey and Melai, but the sheer determination and talent of the Generals, and the raw beauty beyond the city streets.