Interesting story about this historic occassion (by Rexc Catubig)
In early 1990’s, Mayor Al Fernandez pioneered the staging of Bangus harvest or Gilon in his fish farm as entertainment for visiting Balikbayans.
Then in 1997, when Councilor Belen Fernandez was appointed Chairman of Agew na Dagupan, she tapped Resty Fernandez, fresh from a choreography workshop at the Cultural Center of the Philippines — and together hatched Gilon-gilon ed Dalan, a street dance competition, which debuted as the highlight of the celebration of the founding of the City Charter.
It was quite apropos as it depicts the harvest of Bangus–thereby fostering brand identity for the city.
However, when the street showcase evolved into Bangus Festival, its popularity caused uneasiness to Church authorities who felt that the focus on celebrating Bangus overshadowed the adoration of St John the Evangelist, the city’s Patron Saint.
Bangus was given more importance than the city’s Patron Saint who looks after the people.
In fact, the vicariate pastor, Archbishop Soc Villegas, reportedly minced no words and chided, “Bangus is not the city’s patron saint”.
As the founder of the festival that made Bangus a cultural icon, while being a devout Catholic herself, Mayor Belen became concerned. She realized that the Bangus Festival with its trademark events Gilon-gilon and Kalutan ed Dalan, must extend beyond being solely a street extravaganza.
It must reflect the community’s socio-religious heritage to be truly meaningful and relevant to the people. “How can we relate the Bangus Festival to St John?”, she pondered.
The connection is rooted in biblical references. St John was a fisherman before becoming an apostle and subsequently the evangelist he is popularly known as. He was one of three fishermen, along with his brother James, and Peter, who were the first followers of Jesus.
To lend religious context to “Gilon” and “Kalutan”, there are two scriptural passages tied up to bountiful harvesting of fish and grilling of fish.
In the first, Jesus encountered a frustrated Peter who came back with no catch. He bid him, together with brothers John and James, to cast their net anew. And they were rewarded with an abundant catch. (Luke 5:1-11)
The second was after the Resurrection. The disciples went out to fish but had no luck. The resurrected Jesus who they had not recognized, called out to them from the shore to cast their net again. Miraculously, they were blessed with a bumper harvest. When they came ashore, they were greeted by the sight of Jesus grilling fish on burning coals. He asked them to bring some of their catch and invited them to have breakfast. (John 21:1-17)
To tie up all these, as a fitting prologue to the Bangus Festival, Archbishop Socrates Villegas celebrated the Easter Sunday mass at sunrise in Tondaligan–where the traditional “Abet-abet” or “Salubong” was recreated with a twist.
While the common church ritual portrays the meeting of Jesus and Mother Mary, the trailblazing reenactment dubbed as “Abet-abet ed Olin Inbilay” likewise depicted the encounter between Jesus and John who had taken care of Mother Mary, along with the apostles and fisherfolks. The mass culminated in the grilling of Bangus in reference to the scriptural passage.
This breakthrough interpretation aims to recognize the precursive events that define and lend religious and cultural significance to the Bangus festivities.
Thus, the Bangus Festival as a bouncy street celebration is elevated to the status of a joyful community thanksgiving that pays homage to the city’s beloved patron saint.
Mabuhay, Bangus Festival! Vivay masanton patron na gilon, San Juan Evangelio!