The Queen Province celebrates the scarecrow
“I hope when we get back to (our municipality) Alicia, we would see a ‘Congratulations’ banner saying we are an overall grand winner again,” Kuya Roy, an Isabela native, said in the vernacular.
Kuya Roy was our amiable bus driver and operator when we visited Isabela during the Bambanti Festival in January. He wasn’t only saying it to make small talk as he helped carry our bags, rather he was saying it out of pride for his hometown; he even offered to take us there for a quick tour should we come back to the province.
If there were two things for which Filipinos are known, it’s our sense of community pride—which grows into a national one—and our ability to bounce back from all forms of adversity. These two exceptional traits are the backbone of Isabela’s festival and the province.
Unbeknownst to many, the northeastern Luzon province celebrates its festival annually to showcase (and give thanks for) their bountiful harvest. And bountiful, indeed, as Isabela—an agricultural gem with vast fertile stretches of lands and hardworking residents—maintains its position as top corn producer and second biggest rice producer in the country.
“They (Governor Faustino ‘Bojie’ Dy and Congressman Rodito Albano) have developed this festivity to give thanks to God. Amidst all trials and tribulations and problems Isabela has been wrought, we still give thanks for the bountiful things that we can offer from the province,” shared Isabela Vice Governor Antonio ‘Tonypet’ Albano.
For its festival, the Queen Province of the Philippines owes its gratitude to the protector of its crops: the scarecrow or bambanti in Ilocano, hence the scary figure serves as the face of festivities.
“The main role of a scarecrow is to ward off birds that may eat the harvest. We took it a little bit further, as we saw that the bambanti is like Christ, with its arms spread left and right, protecting the land,” explained Albano. “Here in Isabela we want to show that our figure is strong, resilient; that we will be able to rise above whatever tragedies we have.”
Standing strong, in the middle of a field, bambanti also serves as a symbol of hope, according to the vice governor. In October last year, for instance, the northern towns of Isabela were hit by category 5 typhoon Lawin, which resulted in P4.6-billion worth of losses.”
As proof of its resilience, Albano enthused, “Three months after (the calamity), we are proud to showcase Isabela as a province that has already rebounded itself.”
Although we weren’t able to confirm whether the effects of the typhoon have been truly erased, the Isabelanos who participated in the 2017 Bambanti festival proved that they really are a strong and resilient lot—not to mention creative and talented.
Thirty four cities and municipalities battled it out in the major competitions of the festival that included, Bambanti Booth, Bambanti Scarecrow, Street dance Competition, Dance Showdown, Festival King and Queen, and Bboy Dance Showdown.
During the festival, the provincial capitol in Ilagan City was transformed into a Bambanti Village, where dozens of large bambantis, in various forms and faces (beauty queens, robots and farm animals), towered over small, eco-friendly cottages of each participating cities and municipalities where they presented and sold their products and hometown attractions.
Apart from corn and rice, there were mungbeans, calamansi, noodles, chips, products made from roselle flower, carabao milk and a variety of fruits and vegetables, among others.
San Agustin took home the grand prize in Best Agri-tourism Booth, while Roxas’s bambanti won the top spot in Best Giant Bambanti Icon competition.
“In each of the cottages, which are created using ecological type of materials, you will be able to buy the unique products they sell. This is our way of helping the industries in each municipality promote their products,” said Albano.
It also serves, Albano said, as a way of telling the world that people can do business in Isabela. Something that the festival has been successful in doing since its relaunch, as investments paved the way for the growth of the province’s industrial farming and renewable power production industries.
Meanwhile, the talent of young Isabelanos was showcased in the grand street dance presentation and dance showdown. Their choreographed performances, paired with their colorful props and costumes, were a visual feast to the audience, as both locals and tourists cheered for their hometown bets.
The contingent from Quirino bested the other 14 participants in Street Dance, while Alicia won first place in Dance Showdown.
The Festival King and Queen were both from Roxas, while the hip hop dancers from Santiago were awarded the Best Hip Hop Bboy Dance Crew.
Bambanti festival is relatively young and unpopular; in fact the local government continuously works hard in promoting it in the country and abroad. But if there is one thing the recent festivities have proven—with its impressive production quality, variety of activities, and peace and order—it’s that this festival for the scarecrow has the potential to trump those older and more popular Philippine festivals.
It even has the seal of approval from Aliwan Festival, which recognized it as the Best Festival Practice in 2015 and 2016.
As for Kuya Roy, he probably had a smile on his face upon arriving home, as Alicia took the fourth spot in Overall Grand Winners along with Luna (5th), Cauayan (3rd), Quirino (2nd) and Roxas (1st).