No one and nobody ever predicted that this year’s just concluded staging of the Tuna Festival in commemoration of General Santos City’s 41st Charterhood Anniversary would be the most heavily attended in its 11-year old history!

Not even its Tuna Festival Director!

The GenSan Tuna Festival Xperience 2009 Poster
The GenSan Tuna Festival Xperience 2009 Poster

In fact, when Asia United Bank -GenSan Branch Head (and newbie blogger) Orman Manansala was designated by GenSan Mayor Jun Acharon to once again wear the apron as the Tuna Festival’s Director this year, he was apprehensive at first.   He was coming in during a time when the worldwide economy was still in the doldrums, when the Tuna Industry is on a standstill aggravated by a 2-month moratorium on fishing in the Pacific and when the budget for the festival has not risen considerably in line with the times.  Those could have been enough to dampen the spirit of the Tuna Festival.

Still, with a fired-up heart of a general inside of him, and after getting the support of his colleagues at the Gen. Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry where he is the Vice-President, he accepted the crown and scepter, err, the responsibility and set about to working…. juggling his duties as VP and Branch Head of his bank and as the new Tunafest Master Chef.

First, he coaxed and cajoled and eventually convinced the Mayor to include a Mardi Gras among the major events, in the absence for quite of time of the Street Dancing Competition which the mayor felt, belonged to the city’s other festival, the Kalilangan in February, during the city’s foundation.

Mardi Gras Competition Logo
Grand Winner TSP Marine's Float

Then, he improved upon the Tuna Float Competition and turned it into a Parade of Lights, so the floats would look good in daytime or nighttime.

TSP Marines Grand Winning Entry to the Parade of Lights Competition while parked along Pioneer Avenue.  Its walls are made of stained plastic.
TSP Marine's Grand Winning Entry to the Parade of Lights Competition while parked along Pioneer Avenue. Most of it is made of stained plastic glass.

Then, composer Martin Leyson‘s 5-year old Tunafest Theme Song was re-engineered, some of the lyrics changed, adding into the song other names for Tuna like the Hawaiian “AHI“, the Tagalog “TAMBAKOL” and of course, “BARILES“.  This time, it was more upbeat, the drums more pronounced, and the rhythm even more danceable.

Instead of the usual live drums, the new recorded song became the official jingle  for the Mardi Gras Carousel parade of the participating contingents from GenSan’s primary and secondary schools.  Large speakers were scatterred along the parade route from Pioneer Avenue, simultaneously blaring out the faster, hippier song for the participants to dance to.

Crablets from SPED Elementary School give it their all during the MardiGras Carousel around Pioneer Avenue.

Copies of the new version were likewise given to ABS-CBN and all the accredited FM and AM radio stations which they started playing two weeks prior to the festival. This gave unprecedented mileage to the Tunafest.

With a limited budget, he trimmed off the fat and had to make do without a good number of sporting events which the mayor suggested, are better off in the city’s other 3 festivals (Kalilangan, Pasko sa GenSan, Yaman GenSan). This is an unpopular decision he had to take to balance the mix of the events and in doing, increase the prizes for the major ones.

When Orman’s group designed the set-up of the oval plaza, he was guided by the Tourism Council’s directive that the Tunafest should give more emphasis on food. That was why they gave more spaces to stalls and booths which serve food and drinks there, thus turning the C.P.Garcia park into one huge picnic grounds.

Boiled Sweet Corn for P10 at this Oval Plaza Stall
Boiled Sweet Corn for P10 at this Oval Plaza Stall catch the attention of Bloggers Blogie of Davao and Jinky of DOLE.

Senate President Johnny Enrile watch a tuna being sliced for sashimi at the Tuna Food Park inside the Oval Plaza. Enrile was the Opening Programs Keynote Speaker.
Senate President Johnny Enrile watch a tuna being sliced for sashimi at the Tuna Food Park inside the Oval Plaza. Enrile was the Opening Program's Keynote Speaker.

All these must have been noticed by the people who first trekked to the oval plaza, enjoyed what they saw, and later told others about it. And with the radio and TV constantly reminding the “generals” of the daily Tunafest activities, the people’s desire to go out and enjoy the Tuna Festival increased.

And so from the time the 2009 Tuna Festival softly commenced with the conduct of the National Tuna Congress on August 27, up to the time of its formal opening on the 28th, the people’s participation grew with more and more spectators patronizing the daily events at all official venues.

Pioneer Avenue blooms with MardiGras dancers and spectators.
Pioneer Avenue blooms with MardiGras dancers and spectators.

Official venues included the GenSan Gym in Lagao which hosted the hugely successful 11th National Tuna Congress which saw Presidentiables Noli de Castro, Loren Legarda and now Vice-Presidentiable Mar Roxas in attendance.

The 11th Tuna Congress with over 400 participants, exhibitors, and other stakeholders of the Tuna Industry all converged for 3 days at the GenSan Gym.
The 11th Tuna Congress with over 400 participants, exhibitors, and other stakeholders of the Tuna Industry all converged for 3 days at the GenSan Gym.

It also hosted the jampacked 8th Tuna Cheerdance Competition.

A jampacked GenSan Gym watch the RMMC Cheerdancers do their stuff at the TunaFest Cheerdance Competition.

Then there was the Gaisano Mall of GenSan which staged the Bodyfest, Ms. GenSan, Tunafish Dance Competition Prelims, the Culinary Expo, and the Munting Mutya ng GenSan.

Gaisano Mall of GenSan Atrium was the venue for Ms. GenSan 2009 Finals.

The KCC Mall of GenSan on the other hand, hosted the Kapuso Mall Show (with Starstruck Star Mark Herras) and Golden State College’s Culinary Skills Olympics, both very well-attended events.

Kapuso Star Mark Herras join Mayor Jun Acharon, Congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Congressman Ruffy Biazon at the oval plaza stage after his KCC Mall Show.
Kapuso Star Mark Herras join Mayor Jun Acharon, Congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Congressman Ruffy Biazon at the oval plaza stage after his KCC Mall Show.

A lot of photographers and some local and foreign tourists also hied off to the GenSan Fishport complex to witness the “Fishfest sa Fishport”.  On hand to receive them were Mr. Mike Lamberte, Fishport Manager and his amiable staff.

Fishport workers compete for the shortest time to clean up a tuna during the Tunafest at the Fishport.

And of course, the East Asia Royale Hotel hosted the two-day biggest foam party in Mindanao, held at its Arcade Carpark, which drew in young folks from as far as Davao and the farthest parts of Region 12.

East Asia Royale Hotel Carpark transformed into a party zone
East Asia Royale Hotel Carpark transformed into a party zone

Doing its share is the Pioneer Avenue which was the site of the MardiGras Carousel.  Bariles himself was not prepared for the onslaught of people who swarmed the tuna floats, the costumed dancers and cheered for the contingents.  It was a photographer’s haven as cameras of all shapes and sizes were competing to get the best angles of the MardiGras participants and the floats.  Some trained their lenses on the spectators themselves.

People eagerly await the Mardigras and Tunafloat Parade to pass by at the Pioneer Avenue. So daming tao. Grabe!
People eagerly await the Mardigras and Tunafloat Parade to pass by at the Pioneer Avenue. So daming tao. Grabe!

Mardi Gras Dancers along the stretch of Pioneer Avenue
Mardi Gras Dancers along the stretch of Pioneer Avenue. Photo by Chattee.

Let’s not forget the Oval Plaza itself, or C.P. Garcia Park where the Opening and Closing ceremonies were held and where more than 15,000 people from all walks of life and from all over the region and elsewhere converged on the final day, had fun and joined in the festivities, thus making this year’s Tuna Festival the most heavily participated and patronized ever.

MardiGras Dancers watch the TunaFest Fireworks at the oval plaza
MardiGras Dancers watch the TunaFest Fireworks at the oval plaza. Photo by Leonard Pe.
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