As a proud Dagupeno, whose education was helped financed by bangus (milkfish) harvests, we miss our annual Bangus (milkfish) Festival here in our hometown Dagupan City, which was cancelled since the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.
The Bangus Festival is a yearly celebration which promotes our city’s bangus industry. The festival is held for some two weeks from late April until early May, with the grilling of bangus in the streets as the highlight of the occasion.
Dagupan City produces an estimated 16,000 tons of milkfish annually. Indeed, the bangus Dagupan is “the juiciest and tastiest” in the world.
In San Francisco, California a few years ago, we talked to our countrymen who said bangus, fresh or frozen and dried “daing” from the Philippines continue to be popular among Filipino families in the West Coast and all the way to New York and Washington D.C. in the East Coast, with the bangus exports largely coming from Pangasinan, Malabon, Capiz, and Mindanao, and rival suppliers from Taiwan.
When we were in Alaska, our fellow Filipinos there talked of the proud, old first Filipinos in fish-rich Alaska in the early 1900’s who introduced bangus or milkfish to the U.S. and which continues to be popular today. In Pangasinan dialect, we call bangus “Betel.”
Our province of Pangasinan is the top producer of bangus, our national fish, in the Philippines. In 2019, Pangasinan produced some 110,000 metric tons of milkfish, or 27 percent of the country’s total production of around 410,000 metric tons.
Our family owned fish farms in Bonuan just off the Dagupan River, on the eastern outskirts of the city. We cultured bangus, a brackish-water fish our family harvested in large quantity. The fish farms had been there for decades, inherited from our forefathers. We studied in college partly on the income we raised from the farms. That is how our life-long romance with fish farming evolved.
In our fervent desire to improve aquaculture and fisheries and help ensure food security in Pangasinan and in our country, we established in 2010 the Seafood Processing Plant in Barangay Bonuan Binloc, Dagupan City, through a grant from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
We consider the project as a symbol of economic and political partnership between the Philippines and South Korea.
We also built the Bangus Fisheries Hatchery, the aquarium building showcasing different species of salt water fish, and the Asian Fisheries Academy inside the National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center (NIFTDC) complex in Bonuan Binloc, Dagupan City.
The National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center (NIFTDC) is the research arm of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). It used to be headed by the able scientist Dr. Wesley Rosario, who has since retired.
Here in our beloved Dagupan, we would go around every now and then to see and experience the development our city has achieved over the years, which, we would say, is remarkable.
Its progress deeply warms our heart as the Dagupan City we see today was a scene of massive devastation and looked condemned to extinction when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck this city in July, 1990, some 21 years ago.
We remember buildings sank by about one meter, a bridge collapsed, roads cracked open, electric poles crushed, liquid mud emitted because of liquefaction, and a number of people killed and injured.
There was pandemonium, fear, despair, and confusion all around the city. People were running back home or looking for their children as the earthquake hit around 4:30 p.m., when classes had just been dismissed.
The national government considered condemning Dagupan City but we, as then representative of the fourth district of Pangasinan, together with then Dagupan City Mayor Liberato Reyna Sr., Vice Mayor Alipio Fernandez Jr., our fellow Dagupenos, and our constituents of the fourth district of Pangasinan pleaded with President Cory Aquino to help us rebuild the city. She did and for which we were most grateful.
Together with the late Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya Sr., we authored the P10-billion Earthquake Rehabilitation Fund Law which completely rebuilt Dagupan City in two years, as well as paved the way for the rebuilding of Baguio, La Union, Cabanatuan City and other areas destroyed by the powerful earthquake.