http://www.jovialwanderer.com

By Jovial WandererMonday, March 05, 2018

Every year, the province of Isabela in Northern Luzon, celebrates Bambanti Festival, a thanksgiving of the province's sustained agricultural dominance. Its strength can be seen in its position as the Philippines' no. 1 corn producer and as a surplus producer of rice, enabling them to supply the staple crop in Metro Manila and other provinces. 

*Bambanti is Ilocano for "scarecrow", considered as a symbol of the diligence, creativity, resilience and vigilance of the Isabeleños. 

Performers from the municipality of Alicia, winner of the Best Street Dance Contingent

(Photo from YMV & Associates)

Celebrated this year from January 22 to 27 with the theme, "Isabela Kong Mahal", various competitions were held showcasing the talents of the Isabeleños and the province's top products.

 

In the Bambanti Village in Ilagan, an Agri-Eco Tourism trade fair was set where visitors can marvel at giant Bambanti installations and shop for each municipality's major products.  Being a foodie, I enthusiastically went around the booths haunting for edible treats. 

The municipality of Naguilian won as the Best Agri-eco tourism booth. (Photo from YMV Associates)

Some of my favorite finds are the carabao's milk of San Agustin and Cabatuan's calamansi drinks  and morieco, a delicacy made of glutinous rice with latik inside (latik is made of boiled coconut milk and sugar).

We also dropped by Makan Ti Isabela and Mainum Ti Isabela, a showdown of the best food and drinks prepared by each municipality's representatives. While I'm not much of a cook, I enjoyed watching a different kind of competition. Though it's a little quieter than sports, it was still exciting to witness chefs and baristas prepare the best dish or drink within a time limit, while judges went around and asked questions.

Mainum Ti was won by the municipality of Echague with their drink, Illuru, a health drink made from locally grown fruits and vegetables, that gives energy and boosts the immune system. Echague also won Makan Ti with their dish, Fried Sweet & Sour adobo, fusing the classic Filipino dish with other local ingredients such as sampaloc, kamias and honey. One thing I find unfortunate about these contests is that we didn't get to try it. hehe!

 Members of the San Agustin team preparing their dish at the Makan Ti Isabela

In the Street Dancing competition, we witnessed scarecrows come alive as participating contingents danced their way around the Ilagan Sports Complex oval. Each municipality showcased their top product through the design in their costumes, their respective Festival King & Queen leading the pack. Each contingent performed the same steps using the same music all throughout, with only their energy level and costumes setting them apart from their competitors. The festival music has this lively beat and enjoyable to listen to. After watching for an hour or so, I oddly found myself craving to learn the steps.  

The contingent from Alicia was awarded first place at the Street Dance competition (Photo from YMV Associates)

After the Street Dance Parade competition, the same contingents performed at the Dance Showdown. As a mere spectator, I was amazed at how every participant was able to sustain their energy all throughout. In this competition, each contingent is able to showcase their creativity, performing their own dance steps. It's like watching a musical play. The municipality of Alicia won first place for both the Street Dancing competition and Dance showdown.

The Alicia contingent at the Dance Showdown (Photo from YMV Associates)

Performers from Cauyan City, the Over-all Festival winner based on number of points from various winning competitions held during the festival week. (Photo from YMV Associates)

Trivia Time! The province of Isabela was found in 1856 through a Royal Decree by the Spaish government and named after Queen Isabela II of Spain. A sculpture of the queen can be found in the capitol grounds in Ilagan. 

The next day, we headed back to Ilagan Sports Complex for the choral competition finals. Here, participating groups wowed the spectators with their vocal skills, singing two songs, each - one of their choice and a mandatory song, Isabela's provincial hymn. The choral group from Cauyan city bagged first place in this year's competition with their solid performance. Their youthful energy was contagious, drawing enthusiastic reaction from the crowd with their rendition of Piliin Mo Ang Pilipinas. 

Cauyan City choral group

Closing off the festival is a packed and well-received concert with guest artists, Ogie Alcasid, Jona Viray, McCoy de Leon, Elisse Joson and 4th Impact. A remarkable fireworks display ended a long, fun-filled evening.

The Bambanti Festival is a  three time winner of the Aliw Awards, the country's pioneer award-giving body recognizing excellence in live entertainment. It has consistently won the category of Best Festival Practices & Performance from 2015-2017.

Where to go in Isabela

Japanese Tunnel (Ilagan) - a tunnel used by the Japanese as a base, prison cell and treasure storage. For more information, visit their Facebook page here.

Aguinaldo Shrine (Palanan) - Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo's Last Stand, the site of his arrest by American soldiers. Travel information here.

Philippine Crocodile Farm (Brgy. Minanga, San Mariano) -  travel information here.

St. Paul Church  (San Pablo) - Isabela’s oldest church

St. Matthias Church (Tumauini) - 17th Century Church with the only cylindrical belfry in the Philippines

 

Our Lady of the Visitation in Gamu (near Ilagan City) - a National Shrine to honor the miraculous Mother

Sta. Victoria Caves (Ilagan City) - chambers within chambers of awesome stone formations that used to house Filipino Guerillas during the Japanese Occupation in Ph. Travel info here.

Butaka (Ilagan) - Biggest Lounge Chair in the World displayed along the road as you enter Ilagan; The Butaka is a long-arm Siesta Chair.

Honeymoon Island (Divilacan) -  The undiscovered picture-perfect beach paradise in the Pacific.

How to get to Isabela

From Manila, there are domestic flights to Cauayan city. Alternatively, there are buses to Cauayan, departing from the Victory Liner bus terminal in Kamias, Cubao (10-12 hours travel time; Fare's about 650 PHP).