Finding the sweetest watermelon in Bani Pakwan Festival

Situated between Alaminos (known for the Hundred Islands) and Bolinao (known for its pristine coastline), the town of Bani in Western Pangasinan is on the threshold of becoming a first class municipality from its present status of second class.

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The vibrant town with a population of 45,000 is also asserting itself to be the watermelon capital of the Philippines, what with its produce affirmed by tourists as the sweetest they’ve ever tasted.

To celebrate its reputation as such, the Pakwan Festival was held February 6-9. Basing on the turnout of people for the four-day festivities, this first only marks the entrance of Bani into the league of yearly feasts in the region.

A lot of the farmers turned to planting watermelon from the usual vegetables found in the diet of the townsfolk and many of them have become more financially stable because of it.

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It is said that the salty water from shallow wells used to irrigate farmlots is what makes Bani watermelon distinctly sweet.

An agriculturist said that the generally limestone-laden land attributes to the quality of the crop, as limestones function as natural filters for water.

The clean water both springing from the sprouts and its coast also makes the vegetables and fish tastier than what could be found in the rest of the country, said an old farmer who saw the progress and development in his hometown.

The growing of watermelon instead of vegetable after rice harvest started in the ‘80s, with around 200 hectares devoted to the crop.

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During the streetdancing phase of the festival, Mayor Gwen Palafox Yamamoto said she could not believe how the festival turned out to be. They just wanted it simple, but the participants made it grand with their costumes and performances as if they’ve been doing it for years.

“I could not help but cry when I watched every performance. You have become world-class,” she said, adding that the winners will be supported by the local government to be the town’s representatives in the festival in Bolinao in April and the Pistay Dayat in Lingayen in May.

The lady mayor, who is a first-termer and a political science graduate of the University of the Philippines-Baguio, is the first female executive of the town. She defeated a long-entrenched politician whose family ruled the town for more than 30 years.

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The first Bani Pakwan Festival also showcased the town’s big (kingkong) tomato variety. Food giant Jollibee is now largely using this produce as sauce for spaghetti, as well as the freshly cut tomato for salad and hamburger sandwiches.

Some 12 hectares are being tilled and cured by a group of farmers in Barangay Tugue Grande, using a special farming method that ensures the crop quality demanded by Jollibee Foods Corporation.

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The town’s other crops are special squash (malagkit variety), sweet sorghum, yellow corn and bell pepper, which all have attracted a good wholesale market.

Bani got its name from a tree that grows in the area. The town used to be called San Simon and was part of Zambales, but due to its distance from the capital, it was annexed to Pangasinan along with Alaminos, Bolinao, Burgos, Mabini, Anda and Infanta in 1903.

History relates, “When the image of the Immaculate Conception, the Patron Saint of the town disappeared from the church altar, the people and Spanish Authorities searched for the same. It was found on top of a tall Bani tree located in the vicinity of the present Roman Catholic Church of Namagbagan. Thereafter, on several occasions, the image would mysteriously disappear only to be found in the same place. With this, the inhabitants were convinced to leave their homes and to settle at the present site. From then on, the town was renamed Bani after the tree where the image of the Patroness was found.”

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There are also tourist spots in Bani that are worth visiting and exploring. In Barangay Colayo are the Nalsoc Cave, Abot Aso Cave, Nangadiyan Cave, and the Dumaloy Cave, and in its coastal areas are the Surip Beach in Sitio Olanen, Barangay Dacap Sur and Tobong Beach.

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There’s also the Crispina Mountain Resort (CMR). Located in the old town site in Namagbagan, Poblacion, a few minutes ride from the town proper, this privately-owned resort offers the following amenities: the largest swimming pool in Western Pangasinan, cottages and nipa huts for picnic goers, a six-unit apartelle, a fishpond for hook and line fishing, catering service, and activity area for darts, table tennis, billiards and similar recreation facilities.

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Added to these natural tourist attractions is the wonder of Baliwangga Falls in Barangay Ranao.

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And atop the rolling hills is the scenic view of lowland barangays overlooking the Hundred Islands in Lucap, Alaminos, the pride of the Province of Pangasinan.

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