Intricately designed and jazzed-up giant scarecrows once again lorded it over the Bambanti Village, like royal guards in the Isabela Provincial Capitol, where thousands of spectators trooped to take part in this year’s BAMBANTI FESTIVAL, the premier festival of the province of Isabela. The lowly bambanti is feted because it best represents the most remarkable attributes of the Isabeleños, propelling the province to its present status as the country’s number one grains producer and fast emerging agriculture capital of the Philippines.

     Governor Faustino G. Dy III, under whose watch, the province is undergoing a cultural renaissance of sorts, shares that the bambanti serves as the ultimate symbol of the diligence,  industry, vigilance and resilience of the people of Isabela. “Kahit ano pang unos o pagsubok ang dumating sa ating buhay, nananatili tayong matatag, nakatayo at di natitinag katulad ng bambanti.”

 

     Locals and tourists came in droves for the rare opportunity to explore proudly made in Isabela unique finds and great buys in the different agro-ecotourism booths, and to savor the wealth of flavors of delectable cuisine courtesy of local master kusineros.

 

     But it was the street dance competition that made this year’s Bambanti the biggest and the most unforgettable to date. Municipal and city contingents flooded the streets leading to the Isabela Sports Complex while braving the cold January afternoon and what looked like an impending heavy downpour that caused frayed nerves among the organizers. Garbed in elaborate costumes in the most vibrant and festive of colors, revelers gyrated to the beat of whistles, gongs, and drums, like a huge kaleidoscope in perfect rhythm with the cacophony of tribal music, drawing oohs and aahs from the audience who jostled for seats and craned their necks for a better vista of the grand spectacle. At certain points of the presentation, the multitude spontaneously rose to their feet and burst in thunderous applause.

 

     In keeping with the province’s Catholic moorings, Vice Governor and Festival EXECOM Chair Tonypet Albano led the people in prayer to the faint strains of a popular Gospel song. “Bambanti is a festival of faith and a gesture of gratitude to a God who has been so good to the people of Isabela”, he enthused before the start of an elaborate opening ceremony that entailed over a thousand performers and extensive and rigorous dance workshops under the watchful eye of the master of the medium – Mr. Douglas Nierras of Powerdance fame. Painstaking preparation  climaxed in a riveting performance truly worthy of a standing ovation and an encore.

 

     “Nakakapangilabot ang performance ng mga bata,” echoed Mrs. Malou Agsunod, a Filipino teacher at the Isabela National High School. The grand revelry was capped by a breathtaking fireworks display, a matter of tradition in the province’s major celebrations.

 

     “Last year’s Bambanti Festival was perfect. This year, we raised the bar even further,” quipped a euphoric Luna Mayor Jimmy Atayde, after his contingent was adjudged grand winner among all participating municipalities. During his term as Sangguniang Panlalawigan member, Atayde sponsored the passage of an ordinance devoting January 27 – 31 of every year to the celebration of the Festival, in an effort to help institutionalize the Bambanti as Isabela’s banner festival. Meanwhile, arch-rivals Ilagan and Cauayan tied in the city category in a hotly contested fight which observers dubbed battle royale.

 

     Dy attributes the huge success of the festival to the cooperation and support of the municipalities and cities. “Harinawa’y lalo pang lumakas ang ating pagmamalasakit sa bawat isa at ang pag-uunawaaan ng bawat mamamayan upang lalo pang sumulong ang lalawigan ng Isabela.” Now on his second term, Dy won the governorship riding on the crest of a Nagkakaisang Isabela.

 

     In a huddle with top DOT officials, after the ceremonies, Gov. Dy and Vice Gov. Albano proposed a regional celebration of the next Bambanti Festival, an initiative fast gaining ground among local officials and pillars of the local tourism industry in the region. “The scarecrow is not only a symbol of the people of Isabela, it also personifies the agricultural heritage of the Cagayan Valley region as we assert the valley’s supremacy in the field of agriculture and affirm her crucial role in the attainment of food security in the country.”

 

     Describing the festival, DOT Regional Director Blessida Diwa summed it all up in only three words.

 

     “Truly world class.”