Long before the conquistador Juan de Salcedo explored Cagayan Valley in 1586, maize production was one of the major farming activities among the first ethnic inhabitants, the Ibanag. They were corn farmers or mammangi. “This hardworking cultural sector personifies the strength, resiliency and perseverance typical of the Ilagueño character,” says a spokesperson of the region.
Specialists say corn is necessary to maintain your health. It is rich in dietary fiber which manages blood sugar levels, helps the digestive system and provides many vitamins and nutrients. One disadvantage is that corn contains carbohydrates which come from starch, but this could be overcome by the product being high in fiber.
Ilagan, capital city of Isabela, holds the distinction of being the Corn Capital of the Philippines, according to the Department of Agriculture. The city has a physical area of 17,586 hectares planted to corn, which annually produces 150,000-170,000 metric tons of the commodity.
A drive around the countryside will reward you with vistas of corn stalks, with occasional smaller rice fields.
The importance of Ilagan as a major producer of corn came into focus recently with the Mammangi (Corn) Festival, which dovetailed with the celebration of Ilagan’s 11th cityhood anniversary.
Ilagan is a bustling, progressive city with its fair share of malls, banks, schools of higher education, ecotourism attractions, breathing space (as in parks), fine restaurants, delicious rice cakes (suman, etc) which you cannot stop eating with the first bite, spoiling your appetite, convenience stores and tourist hotels.
A python, a tiger
The varied activities relating to the twin celebrations included the launch of an I-Corn Complex, with Sen. Mark Villar as the guest of honor; an Agro-Tourism Village, with many attractive booths; a Barangay Night; a chorale competition, a Binibini Ilagan Beauty Pageant, with drums beating and youths screaming for their choices; the inauguration of a housing project, Pinasinayaan sa Ilagan, for the underprivileged; the obligatory Parade of Colors and “showdown” among competing dance contingents, always the high point of any festival and trips for the national media visitors to interesting destinations in the city proper and the forest areas beyond.
In downtown Ilagan, next to the required Rizal Park, is a tribute to the Supremo, the Bonifacio Park. And right alongside this KKK park is a giant sculpture in the form of an armchair. “It is the biggest armchair in the world,” declared tour guide Syd Pontejos. She explained that the armchair industry was once flourishing in Ilagan, until a new mayor came along and decided to focus on a new product.
A major ecotourist destination in Ilagan is the Ilagan Sanctuary, which sprawls along the foothills of the Sierra Madre over an area of 810 ha, set amid rolling hills, with a resort ambience, rivers and swimming pools, cable cars and a high-wire biking ride. There is an Animal Kingdom here and for the delectation of the media visitors and other tourists, a “very friendly” python and baby tiger were released from their cage and displayed.
Six to eight men, sanctuary staff, had to carry the python and parade it at the entrance gate before the awed but delighted visitors. Some posed and cuddled up to the gentle creature, including this writer. Colleague Teddy Pelaez was extra affectionate, and got licked for his pains.
The baby tiger was malandi (frisky). It was bottle-fed, just like a real human baby, and when there was no more milk, threw a tantrum, roughly embraced his keeper and gave him love bites, and received a gentle slap in return.
Later that afternoon the dance contingents marched through the streets and made their way to the sports complex where thousands upon thousands awaited them, ready to cheer for their favorite teams. They sashayed and gyrated, on the grounds and on the stage, in a blaze of green, white, blue, yellow, primary and secondary colors. The air was electric with excitement, for the overall winner, the grand champion, would receive (and did) a million bucks.
The evening was not over yet, for there would be a lively pop concert featuring celebrities like James Reid, Dulce, Celeste Legaspi and Gino Padilla, climaxed by a stupendous display of fireworks which rocked the heavens.
Hats off to the city of Ilagan on its 11th cityhood anniversary, and for managing the Mammangi Festival with style and flourish. —CONTRIBUTED INQ