Kat in Bambanti Village for the Bambanti Festival
Philippines,  Travel Events and News

Bambanti Festival 2024: Celebrating the Scarecrows in Isabela

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Did you know that there is a place in the Philippines that celebrates the scarecrow?

Every fourth week of January, the people of Ilagan City, Isabela Province, come together to celebrate the “bambanti” (Ilocano word for scarecrow). As the second largest province in the Philippines, Isabela is responsible for producing various agricultural products, including grains. In fact, it is dubbed the “Rice Bowl of the North” and “Corn Capital of the Philippines.” Hence, the use of scarecrows to protect the crops in the rice fields is an important practice among its locals. But the bambanti is more than just a scarecrow, it’s also a symbol of the province’s agricultural pride, celebrated through the Bambanti Festival.

I was invited as part of the media to cover the Bambanti Festival 2024, held in Ilagan City – the capital of Isabela.

It was my first time attending a festival for scarecrows and everything was new to me. Suffice to say, it is one of the most fun festivals I’ve been to so far!

Here’s everything that happened during the Bambanti Festival — and hopefully you’ll get an idea of what to expect the next time you’re here too!

Bambanti Festival 2024

The Bambanti Festival 2024 officially kicked off in January 22 in Ilagan City, lasting for a week. The theme for this year was “Ettam ngana ta Isabela” (an Ybanag phrase meaning “Tara Lets sa Isabela”).

Bambanti or scarecrow
A bambanti (scarecrow).

During the festival, various competitions were held including the most-awaited Street Dance Competition, Festival Dance Showdown, Queen Isabela, Festival King and Queen, and Makan Ken Mainum Ti Isabela (a culinary competition).

The festival also opened the popular Bambanti Village, an agri-ecotourism exhibit and sale featuring intricate giant scarecrows and various products from different municipalities.

For the locals and casual festival-goers, there were live performances by various artists and a food festival that serves snacks, street food, and local delicacies.’

Street Dance Competition

Bambanti Festival’s Street Dance Competition was held at Isabela Sports Complex. Sixteen groups from the province’s cities and towns participated under two categories. Category A includes the cities, while Category B includes municipalities — this is to keep the competition fair despite the gap in financial resources of the contingents.

Bambanti Festival in Isabela Province

The participants performed with the year’s festival song, “Ettam Ngana Ta Bambanti! Ettam Ngana Ta Isabela!”

Bambanti festival street dance
Bambanti festival street dance

Unlike similar parades in the country, festival-goers can see the performances inside the oval stadium instead of lining up on the streets. In a way, I find this more organized, although it is challenging to get close-up views of the performers from the stands.

It was fun seeing the youth in their elaborate scarecrow-inspired attires, moving in energetic beats with lifts and tosses that make the crowd go “Oooh!”

Winners:

  • Category A: (1 – overall winner) Jones, (2) Alicia, (3) Echague
  • Category B: (1) Sta. Maria, (2) Cabatuan, (3) Quirino

Here is a short clip of the Bambanti Festival street dance competition:

Festival Dance Showdown

Immediately following the street dance competition is the Festival Dance Showdown, where the participants performed on stage following their own chosen song.

Bambanti Festival dance showdown
Bambanti Festival dance showdown

I find this a more polished number compared to the first, although both are thoroughly enjoyable.

Winners:

  • Category A: (1) Alicia, (2) Echague, (3) Jones
  • Category B: (1) Sta. Maria, (2) Quirino, (3) Luna

Queen Isabela 2024

What festival wouldn’t be complete without a pageant? Twenty-eight young ladies competed for the crowd of Queen Isabela 2024, proving that they are beautiful inside and out.

Queen Isabela during Bambanti Festival 2024
Ms. Sta. Maria, judges’ favorite.
Queen Isabela 2024
Winners of Queen Isabela 2024.

The participants showed off their physical beauty in elaborate gowns, casual wear, and bikini. The resulting Top 10 had to impress in a Q&A portion, with questions ranging from, “Poor but pogi boyfriend or rich but pangit boyfriend, and why?” to “Do you believe we should allow same gender marriage? Why?”

For the residents of Isabela, this isn’t just a pageant — every participant is representing their town and winning is a source of pride.

It was one of the most popular events during the Bambanti Festival 2024.

Winners:

  • Queen Isabela 2024: Kristine Joy Guzman (Ilagan)
  • Queen Isabela Tourism 2024: Precious Faith Mirasol (Sta. Maria)
  • Queen Isabela Culture & Arts 2024: Jhudiel Eunisse Taguinod (Echague)
  • First Runner-up: Grace Esther Due (Roxas)
  • Second Runner-up: Alexis Ann Ramos (Cauayan City)

Makan ken Mainum

Makan ken Mainum (which translates to “pagkain at inumin” or food and drink) is a culinary competition designed to test the skills of the future chefs and baristas in Isabela using the main product of their respective city or town.

A total of 25 groups participated. Each group should only use “biggang ken banga” (“baga at palayok” or cooking using pot in an open fire) and cannot use artificial colorings and preservatives.

Bambanti Festival cooking show

As someone who grew up in the metro, it was amazing watching the participants cook using an old-fashioned palayok. There were various products including bamboo-wrapped rice, roasted chicken, kinilaw na lobster, and more. We also get to taste the drinks, including a favorite made with salted egg. Yum!

Winners:

  • Food: (1) Dinapigue, (2) Santiago City, (3) Luna, (4) Cordon, (5) Tumauini
  • Drinks: (1) Dinapigue, (2) Santiago City, (3) Cordon, (4) Tumauini, (5) Echague

Bambanti Festival King and Queen

The Bambanti Festival King and Queen features elaborate costumes for men and women that represents each respective town’s culture and festival. The costumes were held in an exhibit at the Ilagan City Municipal Hall before the actual competition at the Queen Isabela Park.

Previously, the Bambanti Festival King and Queen parade together with the street dancers, but for this year, a standalone event was held specifically for them.

Bambanti Festival King and Queen
Bambanti Festival King and Queen

I toured the exhibit and then later popped in to see the beautiful attires on stage. I can’t emphasize how much I love the overall look, design, and creativity of the outfits! I particularly love the native clothing, since they represent the unique culture of indigenous tribes.

Winners:

  • Category A: Echague
  • Category B: Quirino

Bambanti Village

Bambanti Village is an eco-agricultural trade fair featuring booths decorated with life-sized bambanti figures and various products that you can buy.

Kat in Bambanti Village

IMO this is an amazing initiative that both showcases the lifestyle and culture of the Isabela people and at the same time encourages visitors to get to know more and patronize their products. For the food, there are munggo products like munggo ice cream, carabao milk, locally grown coffee beans, mushrooms, snacks like banana chips, chocolates, and more.

There were also beautiful woven clothing, one of which I’d already one from a trade fair I visited in Metro Manila. If there is one thing that will convince you to visit Ilagan City for the festival, it would definitely be the Bambanti Village.

Grand Concert

Bambanti Festival - fireworks

Isabela capped off Bambanti Festival 2024 with a Grand Concert, featuring The Juans (known for their song “Di Tayo Pwede”) and Morisette. Afterwards, there was a grand fireworks show to end the festivities. Honestly though, that was the biggest firework show I’ve seen!

Other things to do in Ilagan City

While in Ilagan City, don’t forget to visit other tourist attractions in Isabela:

  • Isabela Museum and Library. Learn about the history of Isabela Province and wonder at old artifacts and collections, such as local coins and paper money.
  • Meraki Garden. A botanical garden filled with bougainvillea and other ornamental plants. A great place to hang out, with an in-house cafe, numerous outdoor seating, playground for kids, and IG-worthy corner.
  • Bonsai no Sato. A bonsai garden filled with over 300 bonsai trees. It also has a private villa and a secret spot surrounded with red plants.
Bonsai no Sato - one of the attractions in Ilagan City, Isabela
Flower garden at Bonsai no Sato.
  • Magat Dam. One of the largest dams in the country and the main tourist attraction in Ramon.
  • Camp Vizcarra. An ecological park with wide spaces and cottages for river-side dining.
  • Ilagan Sanctuary. An eco-park home to caves, waterfalls, springs, and other natural features.
  • Hacienda de Luis. A former tabacaria (hacienda selling tabacco products) transformed into an adventure eco-park.
  • Philippine Crocodile Conservation Center. A one of its kind in the Philippines, this wildlife sanctuary takes care and promotes the welfare of the Philippine crocodile.
  • Historical churches including: Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, Our Lady of Atocha Parish Church, and St. Rose of Lima Parish Church
Group photo at St. Rose of Lima Parish Church in Isabela
St. Rose of Lima Parish Church.

What to eat

If you’re here for the festival, don’t miss out the food offered at the Bambanti Village and food stalls located outside the Queen Isabela Park and Isabela Sports Complex.

For fine-dining options, check out MultiCuisine, which offers local and international cuisine. We highly recommend the steak!

Pancit cabagan and inatata (a type of suman) are also must-try’s. We also recommend ordering Ching’s empanada and buying various pasalubong including flavored banana chips, cornicks, and — for the adventurous — chichaworms.

Witnessing the Bambanti Festival 2024 was an amazing experience. I can vouch that it’s one of the most underrated festivals in the Philippines that you should see in the future!

Disclaimer: Thanks to Ms. Rosary and Monina and the LGU of Isabela for inviting me for the Bambanti Festival!

What to read next:

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