A SCARECROW is a human-like figure that guards crops from marauding birds, and is usually made of sticks and old clothes stuffed with straw, held up by a frame over a field — and can be a farmer’s best friend. The province of Isabela celebrates these farmer’s helpers — known in the province as bambanti — with a festival every fourth week of January.
Isabela holds the Bambanti festival in thanksgiving for the previous year’s harvest. The celebrations includes a trade fair, parades, street dancing, and competitions.
This year there were 34 booths at the provincial capitol where each municipality sold its specialties. Each booth was decorated with scarecrows, not just of wood and straw but also made with corn seeds, mung beans, rice, assorted vegetables, and bamboo.
The festival was introduced in 1997 during the term of former governor Benjamin Dy, and the first festivals were held in May — the province’s founding month.
When the current governor, Faustino G. Dy III, assumed office in 2011, a resolution was drafted to move the festival to January. “The reason why we separated it is not only to have its own identity, but of course, kasi laging napo-postpone (it was always being postponed) due to elections. So, we thought dapat magkaroon ng sariling (it should have its own) schedule,” the governor said during a press conference at his office during the festival on Jan. 24.
He added that it was set in the month of January due to good weather conditions.
“It’s always nice to start the year with a celebration of thanksgiving,” Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, vice-governor of Isabela added. “Since we are an agricultural province, maganda na ang symbol namin (it is appropriate that our symbol) would be the bambanti.”
The festival has received numerous awards including the Aliw Award for Best Festival Practices and Performance from 2015 to 2017 and the Aliw 2018 Hall of Fame Award for Best Festival Practices and Performance.

This year’s festival, with the theme “Tagumpay ng Pusong Isabela” (Victory of Isabelan Heart), was held from Jan. 21 to 26.
Aside from the annual cooking competition and street dance contest, the highlight of this year’s festival was setting the Guinness World Record for the “largest gathering of people dressed as scarecrows.”
During the street dance parade and dance showdown, performers from 25 contingents delighted the audience at the Isabela Sports Complex with their energetic moves. Halfway through the dance showdown, the official Guinness World Record adjudicator Paulina Sapinska confirmed achievement of a new world record and awarded a certificate to the governor and vice-governor.
“To break this record, we needed a total of 250 participants dressed as scarecrows. Everyone needed to stay in full costume for a total of five minutes. After a lengthy verification process, I can confirm that there was a total of 2,495 individuals dressed as scarecrows. Meaning, this is a new Guinness World Record title,” Ms. Sapinska told the crowd.
The municipality of Alicia bagged first prize for Best Street Dance Contingent, while the municipality of Echague bagged first prize for the Best Dance Showdown Contingent.
At the Makan Ken Mainum (food and drink) contest, 28 contingents were tasked to innovate their own longganisa (sausage) dish. The cooking contest is an initiative of the governor’s wife, Mary Ann Arcega-Dy, through the Isabela Green Ladies Organization, to give opportunity for the various groups to explore their creativity in preparing dishes using ingredients and produce from their own towns.
The first prize of the Best Longganisa Mix, Best Makan ti Isabela and Best Mainum ti Isabela were all awarded to the municipality of Tumauini.
Kaya namin ginawa yung contest na ’to (The reason why we hold the contest is), because I know that it will help the women. Alam naman natin na sa (We all know that in the) provinces hindi lahat ng kababaihan nagtratrabaho (not all women go to work). They usually stay at home. So, kahit nasa bahay lang sila (even if they’re at home), they can do business,” Mrs. Dy told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the competition.
The final competition for this year’s festival was the Festival King and Queen costume show. The participants donned colorful costumes that represented their respective municipality’s local festivals. The designer from the municipality of Quezon was awarded the first prize for Best Costume of Festival king and Festival Queen; while the first prize awards for Festival King and Festival Queen was awarded to the representatives from the municipality of Echague.
As for the awards for the Bambanti Village, the first prize for Best Agri-ecotourism booth and Best Giant Bambanti Installation were awarded to the city of Cauayan for its use of painted bamboo in the image of the city’s patron, La Virgen del Pilar.
Cauayan city was named the festival’s overall winner followed by the municipalities of Echague and Alicia in second and third place, respectively. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman