MASBATE CITY—This week Masbate becomes alive with the hisses of lassos and bullwhips hurled into the air as the Rodeo Masbateño Festival pits cowboys and ranch hands from all over the country against each other and try to rebuild the “shattered” image of the island province.
Some 36 teams with 400 participants from places as far as Benguet, Bukidnon, Cagayan and Sultan Kudarat provinces are participating in the various events in this year’s festival. For the first time, Mindoro provinces sent their own cowboys and ranch hands to compete.
The contests are not limited to cowboys as all of the competitions have corresponding categories for women. Three teams or 30 cowboys are representing Masbate, including teams composed of students from schools and colleges in the province.
Events, among others, include bull riding, cattle lassoing, cattle wrestling from horseback, cattle wrestling on foot, and load-carrying relay. Winners of the various events will be announced formally when the festival ends on Saturday.
Also, there is a livestock show and trade fair during the entire duration of the festival which organizers claim is the largest and only sports festival in the country.
A grand parade of 426 horses was staged on Monday in Masbate City where most of the events are held.
Organizers said it set a record as the longest horse parade in Asia.
On Tuesday, 500 street dancers representing 11 municipalities in the province performed a barn dance on city thoroughfares.
Then on Wednesday, herds of 70 cattle were driven by trained cowboys and ranch hands on a 2.5-kilometer stretch of road.
The cattle drive intended to bring back the time when cattle were driven by foot from the different towns of Masbate for shipment to various parts of the country such as Batangas province.
To ensure the safety of residents and spectators, all houses and stores where the cattle drive will pass through were advised to close temporarily and watch from safe perches.
Once identified with feuding politicians, Rodeo Masbateño has been changing the image of the island province in recent years, said this year’s organizers of the festival, which pays homage to the livestock industry in the southernmost province of Bicol.
“Once, it was divisive because its celebration depended on who was manning the provincial government. There were times when it was not celebrated because of politics, especially when it would coincide with election period,” said Judge Manuel Sese, president of the Rodeo Masbateño Inc. (RMI), festival organizer and organization of cattle-raisers in Masbate.
In February last year, RMI decided to reorganize the festival and veer it away from politics.
“Masbate is known only for two things—political violence and rodeo. There is no other way to promote Masbate now to the outside world except through Rodeo Masbateño. We have to revive the festival or we will be associated always with political killings,” said Sese.
Taking advantage of the influx of visitors wanting to experience the festival, organizers hope to promote tourism in Masbate and encourage investment in the province.
Masbate adopted the rodeo as it was popularized by American movies and books to boost its cattle industry and showcase its potential in 1993.
Research endorsed by the provincial government traces modern rodeos to 19th century post-Civil War America, which saw the boom of the cattle industry and the transportation of livestock from the open ranges of the West to the more populated Eastern settlements.
The modern-day “rodeo,” a term derived from the Spanish rodear meaning “to surround,” serves as contests and exhibitions of skills derived from rounding up cattle.
Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete said the title Rodeo Capital of the Philippines should belong to Masbate, recognizing the fact that similar rodeo events have sprouted everywhere in the country, especially in General Santos City.
“As such, the provincial government is proposing to ask the Congress to pass a law declaring every second Monday of April in Masbate, when Rodeo Masbateño Festival kicks off, as a nonworking holiday,” she said.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alacala represented President Aquino in this year’s event, which was also attended by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.