By Leony R. Garcia (Photos by Teddy Pelaez)
Rising from the doldrums of the worldwide health pandemic, the Queen Province of the North bounces back and holds the Bambanti Festival in January 2023.
Acknowledged as the mother of all festivals in Isabela, this year’s Bambanti or Scarecrow Festival — a tribute to the Bambanti who watch over the fields and a thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest – is bigger, grander, and festive highlighting LGU-contested events on Bambanti Booths & Scarecrows, Street Dance and Dance Showdown, Festival King and Queen, Makan ken Mainum, musical events and a grand concert, and the much-awaited Search for Queen Isabela 2023. Sports activities and medical missions were also conducted throughout the week-long celebration from January 23-29.
A revenge celebration of sorts, Isabelenos came in full force, getting out of their homes, towns, cities and municipalities, and participated in the competitions and filled every venue for various activities in the City of Ilagan.
Aptly themed ‘ISABELA, Pagharap sa Bagong Hamon ng Kinabukasan,’ Gov. Rodito Albano III and Vice Gov. Faustino ‘Bojie’ Dy III, the Director General of the 2023 Bambanti Festival Celebration, led the celebration, with a great help from Festival Director Nilo Agustin.
“We now celebrate the resilience and diligence of the Isabela farmer that has brought the integrity of the province as the country’s biggest corn and rice surplus producer. The City of Ilagan is the Corn capital of the country and we have the town of San Mateo as the Mongo Capital of the Philippines and it is the province’ supplying rice to Metro Manila,” Dy said.
“We are happy to report to our people that we have successfully bounced back by having the highest GDP last year after coming from the pandemic,” Albano added.
The Albano-Dy tandem gamely hosted the awarding ceremonies themselves to be with their people. They also surprised everyone with the awarding of all towns, municipalities, and cities of Isabela with P100,000 each. This is on top of the prizes allotted for all the competition winners.
Since its inception in 1997, the festival has received numerous awards including the Aliw Award from 2015 to 2017 and the Aliw 2018 Hall of Fame Award for Best Festival Practices and Performance. In 2019, Isabela set the Guinness World Record with the most number of persons dressed as scarecrows with a total of 2,495 participants. Further, in 2022, the Department of Tourism recognized Bambanti Festival as the overall winner of the 2022 Pearl Awards for Best Tourism Practices in the Philippines during the 23rd Annual Convention of the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines.
Bambanti 2023 highlights
Colorful, beautifully, and meticulously assembled, 32 Bambanti Booths and Scarecrows vied it out for top prizes. A crowd favorite, despite its fishy smell, ‘Queen Scarlet’ by the Province of Dinapigue lorded over the giant bambantis and won first place in the Category A competition. The huge Lady Sapsap structure is glued with 45-kilogram small-sized dried sapsap fish.
Participating municipalities put up uniquely designed booths in front of the provincial capitol featuring community life, history, and heritage, as well as the various indigenous world-class products, lifestyle merchandise items, and cuisine as the pride of place. Of the 32 entries this year, the City of Ilagan and Cordon topped others for first place for categories A and B, respectively. The City of Ilagan was adjudged 1st place for its masterpiece with its huge drone as a roof cover, a testament to the awesome development of the city.
Started seven years ago by Mary Ann Dy, the better half of Vice Gov. Dy, the Makan Ken Mainum Competition aims to highlight the food scene of the province. This year, Isabela’s future generation took centerstage as they battled it out in coming up with the province’s food (Makan) and drinks (Mainum) innovations. Most of the student participants belong to Gen Z’s youngest group, from 9-14 years old. Their teachers, mentors, classmates, and supporters naturally filled the vicinity of the cook fest either cheering them or giving them last-minute instructions. Santiago City came out with the best dishes while Tumauini served the best drinks for the day.
This year’s candidates for the Isabela Festival King and Queen competition flaunted their symbolic costumes — colorful and with touches of indigenous materials that represented their respective municipality’s local culture and festivals — at the SM Cauayan City. Candidates from Echague (Category A) and Luna (Category B) emerged first-place winners both for the King and Queen categories.
Divided into two categories, Street Dance and Dance Showdown, each contingent prepared a street dance routine performed around the sports complex’s oval track and a dance showcase on the main stage. It was a tribute to the optimism and resilience that the Isabeleños of this vast agricultural province had shown against all odds while showcasing their rich history and culture. And with solid choreographies, clean successions, and fluid storylines of the contingents, crowd favorite Cauayan City (Street dance, category A), lorded it over the 20 contingents.
The intense questions during the Q & A portion surely made the beaucon more grueling as the ladies braved the cold weather of the coronation night. In the end, Catherine Joy Legaspi from the municipality of San Manuel bagged the Queen Isabela 2023 title. Joining her in the magic five were Queen Isabela Culture and the Arts Johanna Trisha Cinco from the municipality of Ramon; Queen Isabela Tourism Julie Mae Villanueva from the Cauayan City; 1st runner-up Jaycel Lumauig representing the Indigenous Peoples Community; and 2nd runner-up Cherry Lee Garlijo from the municipality of Alicia.
And as a final treat to every Isabeleno, musical stars KZ Tandingan and Agsunta band capped off the festival with great performances.