The municipality of Tuy (pronounced “too-wee”) may be the only town in Batangas without a beach, but it is the only place in the archipelago that hosts the one of a kind Salagubang Pestebal or Festival of June Beetles.
Just like most festivals in the Philippines, the Salagubang Pestebal is a thanksgiving feast for a bountiful harvest. But unlike other festivals, this unique fiesta also celebrates the successful harvest of the pest on its crops. The sand colored, thumb-sized winged insect more commonly known as the native salagubang is actually the archenemy of sugarcane farmers of Tuy and other municipalities in Western Batangas. In droves, the larvae of these beetles would suck on the roots of sugar crops and cost farmers in the area more than P200 million in losses.
Meet the beetles
Now instead of using harmful pesticides which have proven ineffective in the past, the farmers use an environment-friendly and cost-effective strategy to control the infestation. The communities set aside a single day in June for the large-scale manual collection of beetles. The men use their brute force to shake the trees, while the women and children gather the fallen beetles and collect them in large sacks. On the first year, they stockpiled truckloads of beetles.
To discard these pests, Batangueños don’t burn them. Instead, some of them end up as stars of the thanksgiving celebrations.
Like many town fiestas, the Salagubang Pestebal features regular attractions of games, contests and a showcase of talents. It opens with a lively dance number of Batangueño youth clad in creative salagubang costumes. Then, young and old bring out their personally-trained beetles to engage in a salagubang race, wrestling and flying.
One enthusiastic grandmother’s pet salagubang enthralled everybody for its flying prowess. Unfortunately, imports are not allowed in this event and old granny had to be disqualified because her pet turned out to be a salaguinto (similar to the salagubang but with a hint of metallic green).
For the brave
Adding to the spectators’ excitement was the Salagubang Fear Factor Challenge, a local rendition of the popular foreign television show. But this is for the brave and brave alone – those daring enough to crunch down a live salagubang or withstand having to lie in a bed of those tickly, crawling creatures.
That’s not the end of it because the festival’s most eagerly awaited event is the Langhap Sarap Cooking Contest. The main ingredient? Why the salagubang, of course! The tastiest, most affordable and most creatively presented salagubang dish wins the grand prize.
Everyone is invited to partake of the wide array of salagubang dishes from pochero to ginatan, rebosado to adobo and the easy-to-prepare crispy fried salagubang.
While the salagubang has long been considered a native delicacy in northern and central Luzon, using the insect as a substitute for beef, pork or chicken meat is relatively new to the Batangueños.
The salagubang is known to be rich in protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals found in sugarcane, the host crop fed on by the stubby, slow-moving beetles. The Salagubang Pestebal has not only promoted the collection of beetles to lower infestation levels, but has also proven to be an effective vehicle to popularize the use of the insect as a food substitute to the locals.
Tourism for Tuy
“This (Salagubang Pestebal) is a direct way of easing the local folk’s level of poverty,” says Ralph Vallesteros, Program Officer of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), which organizes the festival. “We also wanted to give the municipality of Tuy a tourism aspect.”
With the Department of Tourism’s adoption of the festival’s yearly celebration, the spotlight now shines on a small sugarcane town with an insect problem that’s been turned into a celebration and a feast.
by Anselmo V. Talagtag