ON THE WAY to Ilagan City, one sees field upon field of rice and corn, each with a bambanti (Ilocano for “scarecrow”) standing guard. One is dressed in a long-sleeve blouse and dark trousers. A few meters away is another dressed in a princess’ ball gown. Then another, this time made of recycled plastic bottles. The abundance of crops in the area and creativity seen in the scarecrows gives visitors a hint of the Isabeleños’ diligence in farming and their admirable craftsmanship.
The Bambanti Festival was first celebrated in 1997, launched by then governor Benjamin Dy as a symbol of a farmer’s diligence and resoluteness to provide for his family and produce for his community. The festival was revived in 2011 after Faustino G. Dy III assumed the governorship in 2010.
“The bambanti is a representation. It is the ultimate symbol of all the best attributes of the Isabeleño,” Provincial Information Officer Jessie James P. Geronimo told visiting media at a briefing on Jan. 26, citing specific attributes such as diligence, creativity, spirituality, resilience, and vigilance.
The province of Isabela — a center of agriculture and the corn capital of the Philippines — celebrated this year’s Bambanti Festival on Jan. 22 to 27 with the theme “Isabela Kong Mahal” (Isabela My Love). Despite the occasional rain showers during the main festivities, the cooking, street dance, and choral singing competitions entertained both locals and guests, while agri-ecotourism booths were set up to showcase local products and craftsmanship.
ISABELEÑO TALENT AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
The annual highlights of the festival are the street-dance parade competition and the festival dance showdown competition. This year, 22 contingents entertained the crowd at the Isabela Sports Complex with their eye-catching costumes and energetic dance moves. The municipality of Alicia won first prize for Best Dance Showdance and Best Streetdance Contingent.
This year’s Makan Ken Mainum: Master Kusinero Cookfest challenged the 29 participating municipalities to come up with an innovative kambing (goat) dish. This time, the municipality of Echague bagged first prizes in the Makan Ti (food) category with its Fried SSA (Sweet and Sour Adobo) and the Mainum Ti (drink) category with its Illuro. The winning dish and drink will be added to the menus of restaurants and hotels around the municipality.
The choral competition saw groups from nine municipalities rendering their chosen pop songs along with the festival choral piece, “Tagumpay ng Bukas.” The cities of Cauayan and Ilagan, and the municipality of Alicia won first, second, and third prize respectively.
The province showcases local craftsmanship and products in the Bambanti Village where booths representatives of the different cities and municipalities sold commodities, drinks, and delicacies from their respective areas, as well as mounted creatively designed giant bambanti displays.
The top three agri-ecotourism booths were those of Naguilian (first prize) which showcased the vegetables grown in the municipality; Jones municipality (second prize) which highlighted its red wine, vinegar, and handicrafts; and Cauayan city (third prize) which focused on mushrooms and vegetables.
The festival bagged the Aliw Award for Best Festival Practices and Performance from 2015 to 2017.
At a press conference, Mary Ann Arcega-Dy referred to her husband, Governor Dy’s plans, pointing out that tourism is expected to be boosted when Palanan, a municipality located at the east of Isabela facing the Pacific Ocean, and Divilican town’s Honeymoon Island (earning its name becasue of its heart shape) become accessible by the end of the year and early next year respectively. Mrs. Dy noted that roads and airports are currently under construction.
A faster alternative to the 10-hour trip by land to Isabela is through daily direct flights from Manila to Cauayan City via Cebu Pacific. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman