Scarecrows on Parade: The Bambanti Festival | Isabela

Bambanti comes from an Ilocano word for Scarecrow–the mythical figure depicted by a human-shaped mannequin– often seen standing in the middle of farms meant to scare sparrows and crows from casting destruction on crops. Unfortunately, when super typhoon Lawin hit Isabela in October 2016, no amount of scarecrows could save the province’ agricultural produce as the violent force of nature battered houses, highways and destroyed every rice, corn and agricultural crop land in its path – leaving in its wake, a trail of destruction only surpassed by typhoon Yolanda in recent memory.

Levy Amosin

I learned about this fact from Vice Governor Antonio Albano as he welcomes the members of the media, while witnessing the festive vibe of Bambanti Village near Isabela’s provincial capitol in Ilagan City. I was instantly amazed at the resiliency and uplifting spirit of the people of Isabela which was on full display that day.

Mujee Gonzales

“Barely three months after [Lawin], we are so proud to showcase Isabela as a province that has already rebounded. If you actually go to those places, you will not see that it is hit by a Category 5 typhoon that reached up to 350 kilometers per hour.” Albano tells us.

A series of festive events highlighting the province’ culture, local products, cuisine, arty flairs and dancing skills dominated the week-long festival which was dubbed this year as “Isabela para sa Daigdig (Isabela for the Universe).

Giant Bambanti (Scarecrow) Display

14 of Isabela’s 34 municipalities and 3 cities participated in the Giant Bambanti display contest. Towering scarecrows ingeniously designed and heaving of rich colors soared stunningly over the Bambanti village. 

Gretchen Filart

Marveling at each of the giant bambantis erased the prevailing image in my mind, of frightening scarecrows and replaced it by the impressive set of vibrant figures teeming with creativity - portraying various themes such as the Miss Universe and Voltes V. The municipality of Roxas was adjudged with creating the best giant Bambanti.

Street Parade and Dance Showdown

Philippine festivals isn’t complete without the street parade and dance showdown. Even though one has seen similar spectacle at Sinulog, Dinagyang and the Ati-Atihan, the contingents who performed this year brought out something new. 

Sophie Gianan

Even as a past spectator of numerous festivals, I was still immediately wowed by the energy of each contingents as they danced to the beat of this year’s theme song – which also blended perfectly with the vigor of the performers. Concluding from what I witnessed, I now know the reason why the Bambanti Festival has won the Aliw Awards for Best Festival Practices and Performances two times already. They simply know how to astound and deliver an unforgettable show. Quirino took home the top prize in the Street Dance category while Alicia won the Dance Showdown. 

Agri-ecotourism Booth Showcase

These stalls are found in the same area where the giant bambantis are displayed and features all of the municipalities’ local products such as wine, kakanin, organic produce, souvenir items and other native materials. 

Tina Punzal

Making the rounds of each booths gave me the opportunity to learn more about the history, culture and commercial activities of the various municipalities of Isabela. San Agustin came away with the best Agri-ecotourism Booth award.

Festival King and Queen

Jomie Naynes

Each town contingent also paraded their Festival King and Queen to the boisterous cheers of the crowd. Parading with flamboyant and stylish costumes, every pair rocked the stage with their appealing look. The young bachelor and pretty lady from the municipality of Roxas took home the first place.

Inabraw Cook-off

Another interesting side show of the festival is the Inabraw cook-off. Masterful cooks from participating municipalities laid out their kitchen skills in coming up with their own version of this traditional Ilocano dish.

Hungry Travel Duo

Inabraw is a stew dish that integrates vegetables, quash and grilled fish. One can compare it to pinakbet because of the mixture of local vegetables but the similarity ends there. Usually served accompanied by organically grown red rice, the Inabraw appears to provide an appetizing feast. The town of Tumauini – where one of my favorite Spanish Colonial Churches is located – bagged the first prize.

Best Hip-hop B-boy, Musical Concert and Fireworks Display

Following the best Hiphop Bboy Dance contest won by the graceful and acrobatic bunch from Santiago City, young artists from ABS-CBN opened the grand finale show of Bambanti Festival. 

Levy Amosin with Koryn Iledan

The musical concert reached fever pitch once the super talented quartet of Kyla, KZ Tandigan, Yeng Constantino and Angelina Quinto took center stage. The whole Ilagan Sports Complex shook each time one of them belts out a high note. After treating the viewers – which could easily number to ten thousands, the four gifted singers retired from the stage just as the spectacular fireworks starts shooting up light paths in the sky. Amidst the fiery illuminations lining up the sky, the 2017 Bambanti Festival closes in grand fashion, as it bookmarks the struggles of the past year and ushers in a renewed hope for a province surging back to economic might.