By Erwin M. Mascariñas
Butuan City — Each year, on May 19, a fiesta celebration reverberates across Butuan City in honor of its patron Saint Joseph. Along with this, the Balanghai Festival is celebrated, highlighting activities and events celebrating the city’s rich history, culture and traditions.
This celebration is highlighted with activities both on water and on land, a perfect commemoration for a city known for its historic Balanghai boats.
Butuan’s annual Balangay Festival celebration is a reminder of the historic Balangay boats that signified the rich cultural community of Butuan as a kingdom or Rajahnate of Butuan which records attributes to early trade with China’s Song Dynasty as early as 1001 AD.
A part of the religious feast is a fluvial procession across one of Mindanao’s mighty river basin, the Agusan River.
According to local historians, the fluvial procession is a reminder of the importance of the Agusan River and its historical influence and how it has sculpted its vast landscape and communities stretching from the province of Agusan del Sur towards Agusan del Norte into the mouth of Butuan Bay.
On the early morning of May 16, large riverboats decorated with colorful fiesta buntings carried hundreds of people across the waters of the Agusan River in a fluvial procession with prayers of thanksgiving and hopes for a better future.
A life-size image of Saint Joseph spearheaded the parade of boats.
Rev. Fr. Alphonso Dirk L. Sanchez, parish rector of Saint Joseph Cathedral diocesan shrine described the fluvial event as a prayerful gathering of hope for a city intertwined with the river and the environment.
“Butuan’s long history has always been linked with the flow and the floods brought in by the river. The fluvial procession is a thanksgiving, as well as an eye opener for the people to recognize the significance of the Agusan River,” said Sanchez.
“So this activity is not only religious in nature but it also has its significant social environmental importance, especially towards the protection and conservation of the river. The fluvial procession is also a way of expressing our beliefs through our prayers while we bring the attention of the people towards the condition of our the river,” added Sanchez.
Sanchez explained that the protection of the Agusan River should not only be on what people see in Butuan but as where the river basin flows, from Agusan del Sur towards the waters of Butuan Bay.
“In our own way, we hope to promote, protect and raise awareness towards the conservation of the entire river basin which has become fragile over the years because of negligence towards our environment and it’s eco-system,” said Sanchez.
In 2017, Dr. Jurgenne Honculada Primavera, Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology and chief mangrove scientific advisor of Geological Society of London, described the health of the Agusan River basin as a weakened basin and a cause for concern.