This former small town’s cultural diversity, arts, business and development that fueled its transformation into a city now serves as a melting pot for the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), Central Luzon and Northern Luzon.
“Development knocks at the doorstep of North Luzon and Central Luzon and the gateway is Santiago City,” Mayor Joseph Salvador Tan said, describing this fast-rising city of the North.
“I take pride in the robust growth of the city’s economy,” he tells visitors.
He said the northern part of the country will resonate with the Balamban Festival as Santiago City, the heart of Isabela, blooms in its celebration.
In 2015, the Balamban Dance Festival became the most important event in Santiago City.
People from the city’s 37 barangay (villages) flock to the province’s capital to celebrate their rich agricultural heritage and the anniversary of its cityhood.
Held annually in May, the festival, formerly called Pattaradday, is aimed at building a cultural identity for the people of Santiago.
Pattaradday, meaning “unity” in Ibanag, was celebrated from 2006 to 2013 to mark the anniversary of the founding of Santiago on May 4, 1743.
In 2014, Tan conceptualized a new festival called Balamban to celebrate Santiago’s cityhood anniversary.
The mayor said the festival also aims to unify Santiagueños while giving importance to the city’s cultural, historical and traditional roots.
“As we celebrate the cityhood anniversary this year, we also honor our farmers and celebrate their bountiful harvests,” he pointed out.
Tan said the festivity is a big push for the city and will showcase it as service center and agro-industrial and commercial hub not only in the province of Isabela but also in the Cagayan Valley region.
Originally called Carig, Santiago City is rapidly developing into a vibrant city.
It is the first town to obtain cityhood status in Cagayan Valley.
“Carig,” which means “tall and straight trees,” were abundant in the area during the early days.
The Gaddangs and the Ibanags were Carig’s first residents before the Spaniards came.
The place was then named Pueblo de Santiago Apostol de Carig, which was later shortened to Santiago.
After 84 years as a municipality, Santiago was proclaimed an independent city on May 5, 1994 by virtue of Republic Act 7720 signed by then-President Fidel Ramos.
It is one of the three cities in Region 2.
Balamban or “butterfly” is a cultural dance of lowland Christians and believed to have originated in the old Carig.
The dance depicts the graceful movement and fluttering of butterflies that throng the scented gardens of Dariok Hills.
Balamban is usually danced during wedding celebrations.
Tan said it is all systems go for this year’s 3rd Balamban Dance Festival and 23rd Cityhood Anniversary celebrations, which start on May 1, culminating in a show-stopping extravaganza on May 5.
There will be parades and costume pageants and various competitions among the participating villages.
“With the colors and festivities which will depict the origin of Santiago City, this year’s celebrations will focus on the development of the city’s tourism industry,” Tan said.
He expressed his support to President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Tourism’s promotion of tourism nationwide to help fuel economy in rural areas.
To reach Santiago City, 331 kilometers north of Manila, visitors pass through sprawling lands ranging from the plains of Nueva Ecija to the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya.
Although mountainous, the route through Nueva Vizcaya provides quicker access to the capital city.
Entering Dalton Pass and traversing the famous Santa Fe trail (the longest zigzag route in the country) are experiences the visitor to Santiago will not forget.
It will take about eight to nine hours travel by land to reach Santiago but there are also scheduled flights from Manila to the nearest airports in Cauayan City, Isabela and Bagabag town in Nueva Vizcaya.
One may opt to travel via Patapat Road in Ilocos Norte, a scenic three-day round trip from Manila along the western and northern coasts of Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.