Bantayan Festival

Bantayan Festival is a cultural and historical festival held in the town of Guimbal, Iloilo, Philippines. It is conducted every last Saturday of March. It is one of the celebrations that the town observes annually; the others are Bari-Bari during Lent, the patronal feast of St. Nicholas of Tolentino every September 10, and the Disyembre sa Guimbal (December in Guimbal) in time for the yuletide season.

History of Bantayan Festival

Bantayan Festival was first launched in 1998. It was initiated as a preparation for the tri-centenary (three hundred years) of the founding of the town of Guimbal in March 2003.

Its name comes from the word bantayan, which means lookout or a watch tower that was utilized to spy approaching enemies from afar and provide early warnting to people to seek refuge and/or prepare for defense.

It celebrates the historic engagement during Spanish colonization involving the ancestors of the townsfolk against Moro invaders infesting the surrounding seas and launching destructive assaults against its people.

While it is quite easy to assume that the Moro raids were of religious nature pitting Muslims against Christians, experts state that this is an oversimplification. Islamic sultanates in the southern Philippines intensified their attacks particularly in the 17th and 18th century when it was becoming clear that the Spaniards imperiled their economic, political, and social position.

Muslim leadership and elite cornered trading routes coming from the north as well as the movement of merchandise from the archipelago towards foreign lands. And the Spaniards established their presence in the archipelago in a way that posed a threat to Islamic influence that reached Visayas and as far as Luzon.

Perhaps the most compelling reason was the thriving market for slaves in the Dutch East Indies and the demand for slavery in Islamic societies. Before the Spanish conquest, natives lived in scattered areas in the islands. Christian missionaries organized the pueblos, that is the town center, and they coaxed the natives to live near the church and seat of government powers for better administration and easier way to exert control. They were also forbidden to carry arms by the Spanish colonizers.

Thus these settlements were an easy prey to Moro attack from the sea and looted, their people killed or kidnapped to become slaves. The viciousness of the assaults were such that towns became empty of people or abandoned.

Like other coastal communities in Luzon, Visayas, and northern Mindanao, the town of Guimbal put up a defense system consisting of watchtowers. In the beginning they were made of wood, and they were built with stone over time. They are erected in strategic spots in the coastline in Guimbal: Pescadores, Generosa, Rizal-Tuguisan, and Nanga. These are also called balwarte, which is derived from the Spanish word that means stronghold.

From the top of the watchtowers, people patrolled and tracked any threats coming from the seas. When enemies were spotted, patrolmen would begin to beat the guimba, a percussive instrument made from hollowed tree trunk, animal skin, and maguey vines.

Other neighboring balwarte in the network would also begin drum-beating to create an alarm to urge people to escape to safer grounds, evacuate the vulnerable members of the populace, or call to arms in preparation for defense. Hence, the town is named after the guimba. Another instrument that was used was budyong, which was built from horn of a bull.

Bantayan Festival Activities

Activities in Bantayan Festival occur in the last week of March. Its schedule was moved to April during the celebration in 2011. Events include an EnduroCross (which was introduced in the calendar in 2015), fireworks display, boat racing, parade, float, food festival, trade fair, Porma Balas (sand sculpture), fluvial procession, street dancing, contests, entertainment, and cultural and variety shows. Below are some of the highlights.

Bantayan Film Festival

Bantayan Film Festival was introduced by Mayor Richard Garin in 2004. Inspired by the Metro Manila Film Festival, the film tilt encourages community filmmakers to produce short films. These will become entries that can earn plum prizes during the awarding ceremony. It also included activities such as workshops and training in the art of filmmaking such as in the field of acting, cinematography, editing, production design, and screenplay.

Guimba making contest

The guimba– or gimba-making contest is a competition in the creation the native musical instrument. It is geared towards preservation of the ancient art of making guimba, ensuring that future generation understands its role in history of Guimbal.

Moro Raids Reenactment

One of the activities is a street theater called Moro Raids Reenactment. It is one of the most-awaited events as it is a cultural-historical show that feature the talents of inhabitants. It is a reenactment of the misery of its people at the hands of Moro pirates and the fortification of the town for its eventual successful defense.

Search for Miss Bantayan Festival

Search for Miss Bantayan Festival is a prestigious beauty contest. It picks the female winners who embody beauty, intelligence, and a heart for advocacy.

How to reach Guimbal, Iloilo, Philippines

Book a flight to Iloilo International Airport and then take a cab or bus to the southern town of Guimbal. It takes over an hour to cover the distance of over 40 kilometers.


Bantayan Festival Summary

NameBantayan Festival
AddressRizal St., Guimbal, Iloilo, Guimbal, Philippines
CelebrationCulture, History
DateLast Saturday of March
EstablishedMarch 2003
FounderRichard Garin
Historical eventMoro raids
LocationGuimbal, Iloilo
OrganizerMunicipal Government of Guimbal