It is held as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest of the coconut, a crop that the city supplies as a primary agricultural product. Moreover, it is religious fiesta in honor of the town’s patron, St. Paul the First Hermit.
History of Coconut Festival
According to an account of a co-founder, Coconut Festival began in the middle of 1995. Vergel Cosico, the head of the fiesta committee, proposed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Pablo of a multi-sectoral fiesta celebration that would involve participation of various individuals and organizations in the city.
The concept was the fruit of the collaboration with Pablito Merin, Willy Tan, Raquel Tan, Rolando Inciong, and Sylvia Inciong. The initiative was supported by the church, local government, schools, and civic organizations. A resolution by the city’s legislative board was passed endorsing the fest.
The first Coconut Festival was launched on January 12, 1996. Its street dancing competition, which was participated by dance contingents from different schools, was an event inspired by Bacolod City’s Masskara Festival in Negros Occidental. It was also the year that the Mutya ng San Pablo (Miss San Pablo) was revived.
By 1999, the management of the annual fest was turned over to the city government, and since then it has become a vehicle to stimulate the city’s local tourism and a grand showcase of its vibrant culture.
It is a Hall of Famer for winning Best Tourism Event Festival Category City of the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
In 2013, it received the Pearl Award during the 14th National Convention of the Department of Tourism (DOT)–Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP).
Patronal feast of St. Paul the First Hermit
Coconut Festival is also the yearly celebration of the religious fiesta of St. Paul the First Hermit. He is the patron of the San Pablo Cathedral, the seat of the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of San Pablo.
The cathedral’s history traces back to the 16th century. Christianity was first introduced by the Augustinian friars who put up a church under the patronage of the St. Paul of Thebes, also known as St. Paul the Hermit or St. Paul the First Hermit. It became a parish in 1586 with Fr. Mateo de Mendoza as the first parish priest.
The Franciscans took over in 1794 and then the secular clergy began administration of the parish in 1898. It became a cathedral when San Pablo was elevated to a diocese in 1968 as a suffragan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila.
The first church was made of wood. Fr. Hernando Cabrera built the stone church between 1618 and 1629. Throughout history, it had gone through several reconstructions such as in the 19th century under the hands of Fr. Peregrin Prosper and Fr. Santiago Bravo, and then between 1948 and 1954 after it was closed during World War II.
Coconut industry in San Pablo City
Additionally, Coconut Festival gives the limelight to its local coconut industry. It is also one of the major coconut producers in the province, and its coconut industry contributed the push for the conversion of the municipality to a city in 1940.
In the Spanish colonial times, coconut was cultivated under the instructions of the parish priest Fr. Juan de Nicolas in 1696. Its farming was aimed to increase the income of the parishioners, who could then pay higher taxes and contribute more to the needs of the church.
The boom in the production of coconut began during the American period when the country was opened to the global economy and coconut became one of the cash crops exported to foreign markets. Soon, lands were allotted to its cultivation and enriched the towns in Luzon particularly in the Bicol region.
San Pablo benefited from the economic prosperity not only from coconut production but also for its location as a terminal hub. Its transportation system consisting of road and train networks were utilized to transport goods from places such as the province of Quezon and Bicol region towards the capital of Manila.
After World War II, its domestic coconut producers continue to provide supply to Franklin Baker Co., largest exporter of coconut and derived products in Southeast Asia that resumed its operations in 1948, and other export companies.
Coconut Festival Activities
The schedule of activities of the Coconut Festival beauty pageants such as Lakan and Mutya ng San Pablo and Mr. and Miss Cocostar, talent competitions, fireworks display, singing contest, entertainment, variety shows, musical events, the awarding of Coco Carnival Queen, street dancing, parade, sports, etc.
Coco Trade Fair
Coco Trade Fair is an opportunity to showcase and get to know the local products from the city particularly those made from coconut. There are household items like bunot (husk used for cleaning), coconut oil, various food items like buko pie and dishes made from the coconut milk, and coco-inspired articles of fashion like wallets, purses, and gowns.
How to reach San Pablo City, Laguna
San Pablo City is a two-hour bus trip from Manila. One can catch a ride from Buendia Bus Terminal and disembark at SM San Pablo.
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