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Bagoong’s Sweet Scent of Success


Be as Ubiquitous as Bagoong Councilor Judy de Leon-Vargas of Lingayen shares how this town, known as Pangasinan’s provincial capital, strives to be known for something else



If there is one condiment that could be identified as truly Filipino, it has got to be bagoong. That salty, fishy paste we love to put on mangoes and which serves as a base for many of our beloved Filipino dishes is popular everywhere in the Philippines. The smell may put some people off, but its unique taste deepens and enhances the flavor of our favorite vegetables, meats, and even fruits.

There is one town in the Philippines vying for the title of “Bagoong Capital.” Lingayen, the provincial capital of Pangasinan, is known for this thriving industry. The town has 56 bagoong processors, wholesalers, and retailers that each produce at least 1,500 boxes of bottled bagoong every month.

“We want to be known as the Bagoong Capital, not just of the Philippines, but of the world,” says Judy de Leon-Vargas, the young and energetic municipal councilor of Lingayen responsible for the town’s branding using Bagoong, when she authored the resolution to designate bagoong as the “one town, one product” (OTOP) of Lingayen. “For years, people have been recognizing Lingayen as the kapitolyo of Pangasinan, and nothing else. With bagoong, which we call Pasig, we contend that we do not just have the best bagoong in the country, but it is also the foundation of our identity as a town.”

Lingayen’s name came from the Pangasinan word “lingawen” which means “to look back,” since the people of the town in the early days developed the habit of constantly looking back at a big tamarind tree growing in what is now the town’ s plaza.

The town is also historically significant, being the birthplace of Former President Fidel V. Ramos. It also played an important role during World War II, as it was where the Allied forces landed its amphibious operation in 1945 to commence the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese.

Lingayen’s product of pride, bagoong is also special in Philippine history, since the Spanish colonizers were never accustomed to the smell or taste of bagoong, and even described it as “fish which has started to rot and stink.” To which, Rizal reacted with “this fish, that cannot be good until it begins to rot, is bagoong, and those who have eaten it and tasted it know that it neither is, nor should be, rotten.”

Councilor Vargas relates the story of how the bagoong festival was conceived. Lingayen, she notes, is popular for three Bs: bangus, bocayo (sweet candied coconut), and bagoong. “Those who process bagoong in our town source the fish such as dilis, galunggong, caballas, terong, and padas from the Lingayen gulf. Those who sell bagoong would usually claim that it is Lingayen bagoong, to further boost their sales.” With this in mind, she endeavored to have Lingayen’s OTOP as bagoong. Then, in early 2011, they decided to hold a bagoong festival.

“We wanted to honor our bagoong makers. Some of them have been part of this industry for generations, and without them, this product would not be an identifier of Lingayen,” she clarifies. True enough, the makers and processors are front and center in the festival. She adds that the festival is also a way to surely identify Lingayen’s bagoong as the finest. “There is competition in the bagoong industry since bagoong makers are all over the country. But we contend, and we are sure, that Lingayen’s bagoong is certainly the best,” she declares.

Since 2012, the festival has been held annually in January to coincide with the town’s fiesta celebration. In 2015, the town, through the efforts of Councilor Vargas, also erected two 10-foottall jars of Pasig at the town’s main entry points. This is to further boost the identity of Lingayen as a town known for its bagoong.

Aside from Lingayen’s identityboost, Councilor Vargas is also hopeful about the prospects for progress of the town, citing the small but sure steps that they have been taking to ensure the town’s development. She continues, “Other municipalities in Pangasinan have now entered cityhood; yet Lingayen, the capital, is still a municipality.” A lot of work needs to be done, and surely, Councilor Vargas shares she is not one to shirk from a challenge.

She recounts the time when she was first elected as councilor in 2010 and the challenges she faced as a fledgling public servant. “I was 20 years old at that time, still fresh from college. Immediately after graduation, I started campaigning.” She also cites the time she spent at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna, which influenced her ordinances and resolutions, as well as her platform in office. “One of my advocacies was to create the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO), which, I am happy to announce, will be established this 2018 since budget has already been allocated,” she shares.

She emphasizes that the environment is dear to her heart, a passion that drove her to push for a comprehensive plastic bag policy in the town, the first in Pangasinan. “It almost cost me my re-election, since I am definitely affecting the way people handle their businesses,” she recalls. Now, she happily relays that other towns and cities are looking at Lingayen as a model to emulate because of this environment-friendly ordinance.

Aside from the environment, she is also a youth advocate, since she is still young and would love to see more of Lingayen’s youth participating in local government initiatives. She also seeks to develop the town’s athletes, an initiative that she sees as achievable since budget has already been allocated for it this year. Councilor Vargas was also recently elected as president of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines council in Pangasinan, proof of her desire to utilize existing avenues of leadership training for the youth of the province.

She also supports the town’s disaster risk reduction program, since the town faces the West Philippine Sea and it has to be ready for any eventuality. She says that the benefits of the projects resulting from her advocacies are not short term, unlike projects of other local politicians. “Like bagoong that takes time to ferment, some of the benefits of my advocacies and projects might take time, but the people are sure to gain from these,” she conveys. “Others may dismiss some aspects of local governance leadership as not urgent or pressing, but it is this attention to detail that defines my own brand of service.”

The things that other people consider small and insignificant, things that affect the town on a daily basis, became her obsession. “Cleanliness and sanitation, the traffic situation, urban planning…these aspects of the town need attention, and the local government is definitely up to the task,” she shares.

One of these projects that she is set to focus on is an alternate road to the Lingayen town center through the Balincaging bridge, augmenting the single road that leads to where the town delivers majority of its public service to the citizens.

For 2018, the local government of Lingayen aims to attract more tourists and investors. “Much of the budget of the town is allocated for building infrastructure, such as farm to market roads, and develop areas for investment,” she shares. “There is also opportunity for tourism, so we are developing our Baywalk, which offers scenic views of the gulf and the West Philippine Sea.”

Councilor Vargas is adamant that all the work they have been putting in will result in gains that in the end, the people of Lingayen will reap. While bagoong takes time to achieve its singular and distinct flavor, the holistic development of the town also takes time, especially its journey to become a city. And with good governance champions like Councilor Vargas, Lingayen’s identifier, aside from bagoong, may also be the word “success.”

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