May 1 is the feastday of Tagbilaran while March 19 is the fiesta: How did it happen?

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May 1 is the feastday of Tagbilaran while March 19 is the fiesta: How did it happen?

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To most Boholanos feastday and fiesta are just the same.  Actually in the English language they are not the same and Tagbilaran City has both the Feastday and the Fiesta.


Feast or feastday is defined as a lavish celebration with entertainments and food preparation. Fiesta is a religious festival; a saint’s day.


The Patron Saint of Tagbilaran is St. Joseph the foster father of Jesus Christ, the protector of virginity, and the Patron of the Universal Church.  His fiesta or “Saint’s day” is March 19 of every year.

May 1 is the “Saint’s day” of St. Joseph the worker.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XII in the year 1955. It was conceptualized by the Pope to honor St. Joseph as a carpenter and therefore a worker.  His day was made to coincide with the “Labor Day” on May 1.

Even though there is only one person, the different aspects of his life are honored separately.

Creation of Tagbilaran

On February 9, 1742, Gov. Gen. Gaspar de la Torre signed the decree creating the town of SAN JOSE DE TAGBILARAN (Saint Joseph of Tagbilaran) to be separated from the town of Baclayon.

During the Spanish period, a town has two aspects, the religious and the civil.  The religious aspect of Tagbilaran was represented by the Parish with Saint Joseph as the Patron Saint with March 19 as the Saint’s day.  It was headed by the Parish Priest. The first Parish Priest of Tagbilaran was Fr. Jose Bernardo Redoon.


The civil aspect was the town with the name Tagbilaran.  It was headed by the Gobernadorcillo (Little governor). The first Gobernadorcillo of Tagbilaran was Don Calixto Marcos.


Situation in Tagbilaran

March 19 of every year always fall within the Lenten Season or the forty (40) days before Easter Sunday.  During these days the Roman Catholics are prohibited to eat meat, especially pork. So during the Fiesta of St. Joseph the people of Tagbilaran could not celebrate the usual feast complete with lavish food offerings.

It was also the reason why the elite of Tagbilaran developed excellent pastries, biscuits, and bread because they could not offer meat.  The most famous was the Pastillas de Rocha made by the spinster sister of Ex-Gov. Fernando Rocha.


There was no problem during Spanish time because it was the priest that dictates what to do.  The problem started during the American period with its concept of separation of Church and State.

Tagbilaran is the capital town of Bohol.  The people wanted to show that they can also celebrate a fiesta complete with all the trimmings.  The celebration was lacking because meat could not be offered.


The Consequence

In 1912 the Mendoza-Rocha Waterworks was established in Tagbilaran.  Water was now distributed to the houses by pipes. The elite and rich people started to lived in Poblacion Tagbilaran.  Most of them formerly lived in barrios Talotô and Cogon where water was available.

The Poblacion of Tagbilaran is divided into three (3) Poblacion Uno has Virgen del Rosario as Patron Saint with Oct. 7 as its fiesta.  Poblacion Dos has Virgen del Pilar as Patron Saint with Oct. 12 as its fiesta. Poblacion Tres has Santa Cruz as its Patron with May 3 as its fiesta.

Most of the affluent people lived in Poblacion Uno and Poblacion Dos.  The rich people in Poblacion Uno made their Oct. 7 fiesta into a grand affair because they could not do it on March 19.  The rich people of Poblacion Dos, not wanting to be left behind, also made their Oct. 12 fiesta into a grand affair, which is only five (5) days interval.

If Poblacion Uno would offer a horse fight as entertainment, Poblacion Dos would offer the more dangerous carabao fight.  If Poblacion Uno would offer a stage play, Poblacion Dos would import a stage play from Cebu.

At first it was only a friendly competition but soon it developed into intense animosities between the people of Poblacion Uno and Poblacion Dos.  The animosity soon spread to all aspect of society including the political and social aspect. It even went as far that the young men could not court the young women of the other district.

Bohol Diocese

The animosities abated during the Second Word War.  However, after the war when fiestas were again celebrated, the animosities returned.

In 1941, Bohol was declared a separate Diocese with Tagbilaran as the cathedral.  Bishop Julio Rosales did not immediately took his seat due to the war.

When Bishop Rosales arrived in 1946 he immediately experienced the intensity of the animosity between Poblacion Uno and Dos.  The good Bishop even experienced being slapped by a Tagbilaranon government official from Poblacion Dos for allegedly favoring Poblacion Uno.

The solution

In the year 1955 Pope Pius XII instituted the concept of the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker.  It was to be celebrated on May 1 to coincide with the Labor Day. (Note: The Labor Day in the U.S.A. is the First Monday of September.)

Immediately Bishop Rosales seized the opportunity to solve the problem in Tagbilaran.  He decreed that henceforth the Feast Day of Tagbilaran with lavish food offering will be on May 1.  March 19 would still remain as the fiesta or religious celebration in Tagbilaran.

The Bishop then prohibited Poblacion Uno and Dos to have feast day but only a fiesta or religious celebration.

Even though the concept of St. Joseph the Foster Father of March 19 and St. Joseph the Worker of May 1 are different, it was just ignored for the sake of solving the problem of the animosity of Poblacion Uno and Dos.

Distant Memory

Now after the passage of 63 years also nobody anymore remembered the animosity between Poblacion Uno and Poblacion Dos.  People in their 70s that I interview will just say “I heard my parents say that they were prohibited to court ladies from the other district.”

As a historian I have to tell the new generation why May 1 became the Feast Day of Tagbilaran City.  In the beginning May 1 was jointly celebrated by the Bohol United Worker Inc. (BUWI) and the Catholic Church.  When BUWI disbanded, the Labor Day celebration is now forgotten.

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