By Norman B. Tamar
and Rhaydz B. Barcia
MASBATE CITY --- While the unveiling of a new bust or statue of a cowboy on horseback in front of the capitol building in this city gave a new flavor to this year’s staging of the 34th Rodeo Masbateño Festival, it was the long parade of hundreds of cowboys on horseback, some of them on foot, which caught the attention of the spectators.
Particularly awed was guest of honor Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo who said the Department of Tourism will see to it that the Philippines can showcase the province’s unique Rodeo Festival in the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in December 2017.
Expressing admiration for the action-packed festival showcasing the life of local cowhands, Teo said such an event, which is seen only in the US, is the only one of its kind in Asia.
“Rodeo Masbateño is the most unique festival in the country as locals portray a way of life in which men and women dressed up in cowboy outfits compete Western style in bull riding and steed wrestling,” she said.
Teo added the tourism department will do its best so that the rodeo festival can be presented before ASEAN leaders.
The Philippines is hosting the 50th anniversary of ASEAN this year wherein all heads of states, foreign ministers, senior officials and other high-level officials from the 10 member-states of ASEAN will be visiting the country.
She said the festival that showcases Masbate as the top cattle producer in the Philippines, will also promote the country’s livestock industry and be a top tourist draw in the ASEAN conference.
Teo added she will also work so that airline companies will add more affordable flights to Masbate due to the increasing number of tourists drawn to the province.
Maria O. Ravanilla, Bicol Tourism director, said the Rodeo Masbateño festival is the only rodeo event in the entire Asia.
The festival has its roots in the day-to-day grind of cowhands and farm workers in this island province that was later turned into a contest of skills on livestock handling such as lassoing, wrestling and cattle-riding.
Ravanilla said in 2010, the number of tourists going to Masbate increased tremendously due to the rodeo festival.
She said the “notable tourist arrivals” greatly helped fuel economic growth in the province.
Masbate Gov. Antonio Kho said the festival also provides vast opportunities for the continuous growth of the province’s cattle industry.
“As a matter of fact, a roll-on-roll-off (Roro) port has opened in the municipality of Mandaon that will connect it to Roxas City leading to Caticlan in Boracay and vice versa,” he said.
Masbate Mayor Rowena Tuazon said for 24 years now, the festival has been giving a distinct identity to the province which is blessed with vast pasture land and a prolific cattle industry.
“Since the staging of this festival, it has been our locality’s show window,” she said.
Prior to the long horse parade, a so-called “festival of festivals” was held wherein eight contingents from different municipalities in the province performed street dancing.
The town of Balud was declared the grand champion from among the eight municipalities that joined. Mandaon was first runner up while Placer town was second runner up.
The other municipalities that joined the street parade were Aroroy, Milagros, Mobo, Palanas and Uson.
Judge Manuel Sese, president of Rodeo Masbateno Inc., has been overall chairman of the festival for five years now. It was initiated by former Masbate Gov. Emilio R. Espinosa in 1993.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002 officially declared Masbate as the “Rodeo Capital of the Philippines.”