The province of Isabela is known as an agricultural haven, with its harvests of corn, mung bean and rice, providing sustenance to Filipinos all over the country.
It comes as no surprise that the province would draw inspiration from its agricultural roots in creating a festival that would serve as the highlight of what Isabela is all about.
It was because of this that the humble scarecrow was elevated and transformed into the icon of the Bambanti Festival – a weeklong celebration bringing together all the cities, towns and municipalities into the provincial capital, Ilagan City.
Over the week of festivities, Isabelinos and tourists come together to give thanks to a bountiful harvest as well as the economic growth of the province.
The plaza in front of the provincial capitol building was turned into the Bambanti Village. Here, participating towns put up massive huts which serve as Agro-Eco Tourism Booths, each uniquely designed to highlight the products of their towns.
Guests visiting these installations can have their fill of One Town One Product samples, from local wines, to food items that utilize each town’s produce.
Guarding these huts are massive scarecrows, some reaching over 20 feet in height.
A new addition to the list of activities during the festival was the color fun run. A brainchild of Board Member Delfinito Emmanuel Albano, the fun run served as a fundraiser for Isabela which would be donated to help families affected by the recent eruption of the Taal volcano.
Originally envisioned to have 5,000 participants, the fun run managed to bring together over 10,000 runners and raised over P1,000,000.
The run started off with a warm up session before participants ran through clouds of colored powder and jets of dyed water. The course ended at the Queen Isabela Plaza where a foam machine gave a sudsy welcome to the finishers.
Another new event that was held during the Bambanti Festival was the Ms. Isabela coronation night. Here, ladies from the different municipalities of Isabela engaged in a showcase of wits, beauty and grace to be crowned the 2020 Ms. Isabela. The winners would be representing the province in talks and events in a bid to boost tourism and publicity for Isabela.
A festival would not be complete without food and drinks and for this year’s edition of Makan Ken Mainum, the food and drink competition of the Bambanti Festival, pasta and pancit was the name of the game. During the competition, participants whipped up pasta and pancit dishes, all made from scratch, utilizing the produce that is locally found in their respective towns. Strands of pasta were colored using different crops and leaves, while others created drinks using local indigenous wine and juice products present in the localities.
Capping the end of the festival was the street parade, with 27 participating towns each sending a 100-man contingent. Brightly dressed as scarecrows, these dance troupes wowed the crowd with their routines, which saw dancers move in unison as they brought to life the movement of scarecrows and scenes of planting and harvest, all interspersed with acrobatic maneuvers. As night fell and the skies darkened, the stage lit up as the Festival King and Queen were announced and the Festival Dance Showdown commenced.
The Bambanti Festival was first conceived as a thanksgiving festival but it has now morphed into a tourism, trade, investment and environment project focusing on the development, marketing and promotion of the province of Isabela. It has since become an Aliw Awards Hall of Famer and has entered the list of Guinness World Records as the largest gathering of people dressed as scarecrows. As the province continues on its march of progress, the benevolent scarecrow continues to watch over the Isabelinos who welcome the fruits of their labors.