Workers clean tunas for export at the fish port in General Santos City, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao in this file photo. Nuns of the Oblates of Notre Dame held a dinner in honor of poor tuna fishermen during this year's celebration of the Tuna Festival. (Photo by Paul Bernaldez/AFP)
A group of nuns in Mindanao honored poor fishermen this week for helping spur development in the city of General Santos, touted as the "Tuna capital of the Philippines."
Nuns of the Oblates of Notre Dame congregation on Sept. 4 treated the fishermen and their families to a night of food and fun, as the city celebrated its annual tuna festival.
Sister Susan Bolanio, executive director of the Hesed Foundation, said it was fitting to pay tribute to the fisherfolk for their contribution to the development of the city.
"This is the first time that marginalized fisherfolk have been officially recognized at the celebration of the tuna festival," the nun told ucanews.com.
"If there were no fishermen, we would not have fish on our table," said Sister Bolanio.
Since 2006, the nuns have administered the Apostleship of the Sea, which manages the Stella Maris Seafarers' Center at the General Santos City seaport.
The center has been helping distressed and poor tuna fishermen, including some arrested and jailed in Indonesia for alleged illegal fishing.
Brix Tan, chairman of the city council's committee on fisheries, expressed gratitude to the nuns for holding the "Fishers' Night" during this year's week-long tuna festival.
"The tuna fishermen deserve to be recognized," said the local legislator. "They are instrumental in the growth of our tuna industry," he said.
Ramir Rendon, chairman of the city's fisheries and aquatic resources management council, also thanked the nuns for recognizing the work of the fishermen.
"Catching tuna and other fish on the high seas is not an easy job," said Rendon, adding that tuna fishers spend at least a week away from their families each trip to fish.
He said the party sponsored by the nuns was also a chance the fishermen to bond with their families.
Sister Bolanio expressed hope that local authorities will make the celebration a regular event.
Mayor Ronnel Rivera thanked the fishermen for helping propel the growth of the city. "Our city became known because of the tuna industry," he said during the party.
The city of General Santos is home to six of the country's seven tuna canneries and other related ventures that generate an average of US$300 million in annual exports