"Majestic!" exclaimed Toots Soberano, photojournalist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, when aboard the ABS-CBN Sky Patrol helicopter, he saw the fire snaking through some 1,000 grills lining the whole one-kilometer stretch of A.B. Fernandez Avenue, the busiest street of the city. It was one sunny afternoon of May 3, 2003, the holding of the "Kalutan ed Dagupan."
Few minutes earlier, Toots was already impatient as the "chopper" hovered around for over 30 minutes already and the crowd from our view was yet sparse. He had taken already many shots of a seemingly interesting line of grills. Amid the whirring sound of the chopper, Toots shouted: "Bumaba na tayo." I thought then that perhaps Toots was already dazed or he would like to capture the excitement from the ground. But I insisted: "Huwag muna, hintayin natin yong pagsindi ng grills!"
Moments later, a streak of fire dotted the long grill like a flame thrower dashing through or like a laser beam shooting towards the street in slow motion. As the grills were lighted one after the other, the people -- like colony of ants -- were scampering towards the flaming grills. It was a sight to behold, indeed. Toots, who was by my left, did not miss a moment clicking his camera. By my right, an ABS-CBN cameraman was busy taking video shots and murmuring "ang ganda."
A few days after, that "majestic" aerial shot of Toots on "Kalutan ed Dagupan" blazed the front page of Philippine Daily Inquirer as its banner photo along the story of Inquirer's Pangasinan Correspondent Yolly Fuertes.
I may have missed the "organized chaos" from the ground but because I collated all the video footages -- from Francis Portraits' cameraman led by Frances Lim, CIO's Ric Ceralde, NDS' camera men headed by Nap Donato, Sky Cable's cameramen led by Mel Sulueta, ABS-CBN's crew led by Gina Almazan -- I saw from various angles the phenomenon called "Kalutan ed Dagupan". a.k.a. world's longest barbecue.
As I watched the footages, I had goose bumps and felt I was in cloud 9. This was not the city that I used to know. These were not the Dagupenos that I used to see. The typically demure Dagupenos and Pangasinenses, joined visitors in chorus of loud cheers and spontaneous waving of hands. The crowd that packed the street was estimated to have reached over 100 thousand participants.
"This is the biggest, single event of the city surpassing the crowd that greeted the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur when he landed in Bonuan Beach here," House Speaker Jose De Venecia, said in his speech before the lighting of the first grill.
Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon led the lighting ceremony using a custom-made giant Fuego match. Beside him were Dagupan City Mayor Benjamin S. Lim, Speaker Joe De Venecia, Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta, Rep. Imee Marcos and Vice Mayor Alvin Fernandez.
The flame turned into embers of burning coals. The simultaneous grilling of some 10,000 bangus started. Then the aroma of grilled Dagupan Bangus, known as the world's tastiest milkfish, filled the air like never before. The participants started to salivate.
While the event went on, the documentation teams took pictures and videos from various angles to preserve every moment of the spectacle. The photos and video footages were subsequently submitted to the office of the Guinness World Records in London. The official measuring team from the Geodetic Engineers of the Philippines- Pangasinan Chapter (GEP-Pang) used laser guided equipment and tape measures for an accurate measurement of the longest barbecue.
When the GEP-Pang. Reached the 613-meter mark as displayed by a tarpaulin banner, Philippine Star lens man Cesar Ramirez preserved the moment through his lens when the participants waving and showing the thumbs down sign as if to validate the screaming message of the banner: "Adios, Peru." The full-blown photo of Cesar came out in Philippine Star along with the story of Star correspondent Eva Visperas who had written series of stories on the Bangus Festival and the longest barbecue. It was in 1999 when Sicuani, Peru set the record of the longest barbecue measuring 613 meters and gathering a crowd of 20, 000. The "Kalutan ed Dagupan" was intended to break that record.
At the end of the long line of grilled bangus, the measuring group marked 1, 007 meters on the ground using a white chalk.
And while the participants were again cheering, ABS-CBN's "Balitang Kyut" reporter Marc Logan interviewed Mayor Lim. The Mayor beamed: "We are very, very proud that Dagupan made a history today as the world's longest barbecue." "We kissed Peru goodbye."
Few minutes later, before the eating of the grilled bangus, a sudden downpour broke the euphoria. The participants had to put the cooked bangus on plates and plastic bags, and they scampered towards the buildings in the downtown area for shelter.
Did it dampen the spirit of the participants? The answer was no. The participants were still smiling and were feasting on the succulent bangus.
That rain was the first in year 2003 in Dagupan and it only poured down where the longest grill took place. "That was an "Agua de Mayo", a shower of blessings from God," Bangus Festival Chairman Elmer Lorica enthused.
In less than an hour, the rain stopped. And the A.B. Fernandez Avenue was back to its euphoric blaze. Eight makeshift platforms featured various bands and performers to entertain the tens of thousands of participants partied all night in the biggest street party Dagupan has ever had. Fireworks display added glitter to the already fun-filled day.
The second edition of "Kalutan ed Dagupan," the culminating event of the 8-day Bangus Festival, like the first edition staged in year 2002, was truly a complete entertainment treat to Dagupenos and the visitors. Tales of an enjoyable evening from the participants were endless.
But more that that, Mayor Lim-who conceived the idea of the whole event along with Tourism Council Chairman Voltaire Arzadon said: "The most important thing was the display of full cooperation and camaraderie among Dagupenos from all walks of life."
The "Kalutan" had actually undergone through planning and tedious preparations from various sectors led by members of the PANDA Volunteer Fire Brigade, the event manager as appointed by Mayor Benjamin S. Lim.
Several months after, the Kalutan ed Dagupan's magic re-ignited Dagupenos' hearts when Guinness World Records office in London sent a letter and a certificate to the Office of the Mayor announcing that the "People of Dagupan" has set a new Guinness World Record for longest barbecue.
Truly, the Guinness recognition of the city's longest barbecue feat made each participating Dagupeno a world record breaker.
During victory celebration in another sunny afternoon last February 20, Mayor Lim aptly said: "Be proud Dagupenos, We made it!"
Few days later, the first heavy rain poured in Daguan City this year. A validation of the shower of blessing, indeed.
CIO/Mr. Orpheus M. Velasco