Tagbilaran City bursts with colors and resounds with merriment toward the end of April until May 1 as residents and the city government hold the Saulog Tagbilaran, expanding the traditional fiesta in honor of its patron saint, Joseph the Worker, into a festival, much like the modern festivals around the Philippines.
Like other festivals, the Saulog Tagbilaran is as much a celebration as a way to entice visitors and tourists. This is something that has become important as the opening of a new airport on Panglao Island draws near, making the capital city of Bohol no longer the gateway to one of the Philippines’ important tourist destinations.
But mayor John Geesnell Yap remains optimistic, and is strengthening the city as the industrial, educational and commercial hub of the province. Additionally, Tagbilaran itself also has a number of tourist attractions, most of which are heritage structures such as the old houses around the city, especially in the sitio of Ubos; the 19th-century Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Worker; the National Museum branch; and the Bohol Friendship Park. The Saulog Tagbilaran is a very good addition.
Saulog Tagbilaran started in 2013, stemming from the city fiesta. Modern festivals in the Philippines are usually created from long-time celebrations such as fiestas and founding anniversaries, as well as to revolve around cultural icons and main agricultural products.
The Tagbilaran fiesta on May 1 is one of the important occasions of the city, during which locals gather together and feasts, which can last for four days—the ante-bisperas, the day before the eve of the fiesta; the bisperas, the eve of the fiesta; the katumanan, the day of the fiesta; and the liwas, the day after the fiesta.
With the Saulog, which means “celebration” in Cebuano, the festival now takes about a couple of months, with an opening ceremony in mid-March.
This year, the core of the festival was from April 16 to May 1. Like other festivals, it had a wide array of events such as sports competitions; entertainments, parties and socials almost every night; a bazaar; a visual art exhibit; and different contests. The whole city was dressed with buntings, and this year, four attractive altars dedicated to the patron were set up in different locations. The Tagbilaran City Hall Grounds became a night market with booths selling local crafts and food and enlivened by nightly performances.
Main events include a beauty pageant, the Mutya sa Tagbilaran. In the grand coronation night on April 28, Raclare Stephan Trigo, an 18-year-old student from the University of Bohol from the barangay of San Isidro, went home with the title. Miss Booy Dann Audrey Cadenas was first runner-up, followed by Miss Ubujan Rueggy Mae Namoc, second runner-up; Miss Manga Lady Aira Lumantas, third runner-up, and Miss Poblacion Dos, fourth runner up.
On April 24, the Saulog Festival King and Queen contest was held at the Bohol Cultural Center with the couple from San Isidro clinching the titles.
The sea procession on April 29 was also an interesting event. Decorated fishing boats from the city’s coastal barangays joined the procession, which started at the talipapa at the causeway in Poblacion Uno and went around Panglao Strait. The procession ended with feasting.
The much-anticipated events were on May 1, the fiesta day itself. The day started with the traditional diana to make known that the day is special. In the afternoon, the Saulog Street Dancing parade went from Plaza Rizal to Carlos P. Garcia Sports Complex, where the showdown and competition were held.
The street dance and showcase are not only spectacular, but also an entertaining way of knowing local culture, practices and values. The Saulog Tagbilaran street dances are always compared to the much famous Sinulog Festival of neighboring island of Cebu, and most contingents were indeed inspired by it. Dance steps were created to make the performances distinctive, and they are called pangurus, pagsipilya ug pagdukduk, paghalad and pagsaulog.
All the 15 barangays of Tagbilaran participated in the street dance competition, and their performances depicted slices of local life, history, beliefs, aspirations and, of course, the devotion to Saint Joseph the Worker.
The contingents from Tiptip, Bool and Manga tackled garbage and pollution, showing the adverse effects and the efforts to solve them. The Ubujan group tackled social issues such as drug addiction and showed the importance of education The Poblacion Dos contingent depicted fishing, while Poblacion Uno extolled the importance of manual work, with giant symbols of hammer. Cogon told about an engkanto terrorizing neighborhood, while Cabawan showed their deep devotion to Saint Joseph. The Mansasa group depicted native people discovering a religious image inside bamboo pole. Other groups, such as those from Taloto, Dampas, San Isidro, Poblacion Tres, Booy and Dao depicted family life.
Poblacion Tres’s grand production, which told about a simple family with high moral values—the father is a carpenter, and a child dreams to be a priest—was declared the champion. They were also judged to be the best in choreography and field performance.
The group from San Isidro, which was hailed as the best in street dancing, musicality, production design and costume, was the first runner-up, while Ubujan was the second runner-up, and Tiptip and Taloto were the fourth runners-up.
Fireworks punctuated the celebration that culminated a year of hard work and devotion.