Feisty Fiestas

By Dom Galeon

You’ve perhaps danced along the streets of Cebu City, marveled at the gigantes of Lucban, and shouted “Viva la Virgen!” as you watch the fluvial procession by the banks of the Naga River. But have you ever eaten as many mangoes you can in 30 minutes? Or make a pyramid made from cooked crabs? Well, if you haven’t done so yet, you might want to try out these fiestas in the Philippines that aren’t yet as popular as Sinulog or Dinagyang, but are no less interesting.


Halamanan (January)

It’s a festival that seems particularly apt nowadays, what with climate change and global warming. In honor of their patron San Ildefonso of Toledo, the people of Guiguinto, Bulacan have been celebrating plants, flowers, and trees every January since 1999. This almost 20-year old fiesta runs for one week and begins with the “Indakan sa Kalye” where thousands of people from all over Bulacan come to watch students from various public and private schools dance along the streets, as well as the floats representing each of the barangays in Guiguinto. Halamanan is a festival that celebrates the towns ornamental plants and landscape industry.


Rodeo Masbateño (April)

If you’re a fan of bulls—no, not the basketball team—you don’t have to go to Pamplona, Spain for the San Fermines or to the US to join a rodeo. All you need is a trip to Masbate City. Dubbed as the “rodeo capital” of the Philippines, Masbate City has been holding a five-day rodeo since a group of ranchers decided to start it in 1993. Rodeo Masbateño is packed with events to make you go yeehaw! From cow-wrestling, lassoing, to cattle parades, barn dances, livestock shows, and calesa rides.


Manggahan (May) 

This festival originally commemorated the founding of Guimaras, an island located 15 minutes away from Iloilo, as a province back in May 1992. What started as a week of festivities soon afterwards turned into a month-long celebration of the fruit Guimaras is most known for: mangoes. Manggahan Festival features the island’s uniquely flavorful mangoes, which locals say are sweet because of three reasons. One, the soil is supposedly rich in calcium. Two, the island’s location constantly exposes its fields upon fields of mango trees to breeze from the sea. Lastly, the people of Guimaras are wonderfully sweet. With a varied enough mix of activities, including an eat-all-you-can mango smorgasbord, the Manggahan Festival will definitely affirm your love for one of the country’s most popular exported fruit.


Liliw Gat Tayaw (April)

Aside from its catchy name, this festival in Liliw, Laguna celebrates one of the most ordinary household items: the tsinelas. This festival of slippers—or flip flops, if you’re more modern—happens every April 22 to 27, showcases not just footwear, but also Liliw’s agricultural and industrial products.


Mayohan sa Tayabas (May)

Since we’re talking about food, here’s another fiesta that’s an amusing culinary treat. From May 6 to 15, residents of Tayabas City in the province of Quezon celebrate Mayohan, a festival in honor of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers. Instead of the usual processions and dancing to express their gratitude for the previous year’s bountiful harvest, locals participate in the “Hagisan ng Suman” on the last day of Mayohan. As San Isidro’s statue passes by, the people of Tayabas throw suman and other food items towards their patron. Those who catch the free goodies will supposedly have a prosperous year ahead. Or at least a free merienda for that afternoon.


Baliw-Baliw (May)

This is a curious one. Held every May in honor of San Vicente Ferrer, patron of Olanggo Island in Cebu, the Baliw-Baliw Festival is aptly named. With celebrations that include cross-dressing men pretending to give birth by the sea, as well as people carrying or wearing phallic symbols, an animal fight involving cats or frogs, and the selling of cow dung dressed with ketchup, this fiesta is truly cray-cray! And crazy is best served under the heat of the noon sun. Banned for some time by the local Catholic church because of its oddities, the Baliw-Baliw Festival is supposedly a way for devotees to cope up with the madness of everyday life, and it’s been celebrated since the 18th century.


Katigbawan (June)

This isn’t your ordinary fiesta that celebrates a town’s founding. Sure, Katigbawan commemorates the foundation of Catogbian in Bohol, but it does so in a bizarre manner. Beginning on June 17 and lasting for a week, the activities in Katigbawan include the usual local beauty contests for human beings. At the same time, there’s also one for carabaos. Each animal comes dressed in what are equivalent to, well, their pageant clothes and they also showcase a particular talent. But before animal lovers start hating on the people of Catogbian, understand first that the carabao beauty contest is done in the honor of the animal, which the local farmers consider to be their best friend.


Taong Putik (June)

People from Aliaga, Nueva Ecija celebrate their fiesta at the same time those in San Juan do. But instead of just dousing people with water in honor of their patron St. John the Baptist, locals cover themselves in mud, with banana leaves and vines wrapped around their bodies. Talk about outdoing the competition! These taong putik then join their patron saint’s statue in procession. Underneath all the mud is a history that goes all the way back to World War II. Japanese soldiers were about to execute all the male townspeople of Aliaga in retaliation for a guerrilla ambush, but then it started to rain. Taking this as an ill omen, the Japanese instead set the residents free.


Aswang Festival (formerly in October)

Whenever one talks about aswang, the local version of monsters, one province always comes to mind: Capiz. But instead of killing the myth by disassociating themselves with it, the people of Roxas City saw it as an opportunity to promote tourism. Yes, it was a festival that started in 2004 that featured the various kinds of aswang popular in local culture. It was popular and controversial, which is why this fiesta has been stopped in 2007.


Piestang Tugak (October)

Speaking of animals, here’s another one that celebrates four-legged creatures. In San Fernando City, Pampanga, locals throw a feast in honor of frogs. Since it was first held at the first week of October 2003, Piestang Tugak has been showcasing the importance of frogs in Kapampangan culture, particularly for those in San Fernando. Frogs are, after all, a culinary delicacy in Pampanga.