Vigan City launches tourist passport as it celebrates its arts festival

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROEL HOANG MANIPON FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE | Vigan City mayor Jose ‘Bonito’ Singson Jr., city and province officials and special guest, former senator Nikki Coseteng, led the launch of the Vigan City Tourist Passport
on Calle Crisologo.

Vigan City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Ilocos Region, and its main draw is the handsome heritage houses, the Filipino bahay na bato, that date back to the Spanish colonial era. These old houses cluster around Calle Crisologo, the heritage center of the capital of the province of Ilocos Sur in northwestern Luzon Island, and the area, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, has highest concentration of heritage structures in the Philippines.

The city also has several museums, extraordinary for regions outside of Metro Manila, and traditional crafts such as pottery and textile weaving still survive and had become tourist attractions. It also affords visitors a taste of the food of the Ilocano people, the dominant ethnic group in the region, such as pinakbet, poque-poque, tinubong, their version of the empanada and bagnet.

Iconic bagnet was one of the Ilocano dishes served during the passport launch.

The local government has been concocting touristic events and products to entice more visitors, especially now that tourism in the area is recovering from the lockdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic and the July 2022 northern Luzon earthquake, which damaged several old structures in the area including the 19th-century Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle and the Saint Augustine of Hippo Church of neighboring town of Bantay, which remain closed until today.

One of the city’s touristic efforts is its own tourist passport. Using a tourist passport has recently become a fun activity for tourists in several areas around the world. In Taiwan, for example, tourists earn cute stamps on their passports on every destination and landmark they visit. In the Philippines, the Department of Tourism issued Jose Rizal passports in 2011 in celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of the Filipino writer and hero. Tourists earned stamps in sites associated with Rizal all over the Philippines such as his birthplace in Calamba, Laguna, and his place of exile in Dapitan, Zamboange del Norte. Tourists who completed their stamps earned prizes.

The tourist passport is said to have a rewards system, aimed at boosting local businesses, and holders earn stamps by patronizing stores, restaurants and other establishments.

In Vigan City, the passport is a way to boost local businesses, according to its mayor, Jose “Bonito” Singson, Jr., who is from the province’s most dominant political clan and who spearheaded the venture. The Ciudad de Vigan Pasaporte de Turista is said to have a rewards system, and holders earn stamps by patronizing stores, restaurants and other establishments in the city.

The launch of the tourist passport on 28 April served as the opening event of the Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts, which ran until 5 May. The Binatbatan is one of three main festivals of the city, strategically scheduled throughout the year.  The Longganisa Festival in the early part of the year is inspired by the city’s popular version of the Filipino pork sausage, while the Raniag: The Vigan Twilight Festival in October features the celebration of Halloween and the traditional local undas, which honors the departed. Binatbatan is in the middle of the hot, dry season, and highlights heritage, creativity and culture.

The launch was held on charming Calle Crisologo led by Singson, a whole day affair starting with a motorcade in the morning and an al-fresco program with dinner in the evening. The event was attended by provincial and city government officials and employees, visitors and special guests such as former senator Anna Dominique “Nikki” Marquez-Lim Coseteng.

A beautiful setup for the launch of the Vigan City Tourist Passport on Calle Crisologo, famous for its heritage houses.

The tourist passports were readily made available to purchase through booths placed on the main street, at the city hall and online at

Singson hinted at more tourism projects to come.

The Binatbatan Festival started rolling. A mural, a collaboration among local artists, has just been unveiled at the Plaza Burgos, where Art in the Park was held on 29 April, including an art exhibit and a painting contest. At night, several groups performed at the Vigan Dance Festival 7.  The Food and Trade Fair, at the Boardwalk on Govantes Dike, by the banks of Mestizo River, and the Abel Product Expo were opened on that day.

An on-the-spot art contest at Plaza Burgos.

On 30 April, the Capture the Vigan Experience: On the Spot Photography Competition was held with the theme “Time Travel” for the Professional Category and “Ilocano Heritage Hospitality” for the Amateur Category, as well as the Television and Music Video Competition.

While the Black and White Photography Exhibit was mounted on Calle Crisologo, the Abel and Recycled Costume Ramparade featured designs using recycled materials and the local hand-woven textile at the Vigan City Hall.

Other festival events and activities included the Abel Iloco Fashion Show and Competition, the Damili Jar Painting Competition, Reynas ti Mayo, Kalesa Parade and Competition, Carabao Painting and Pasagad Dressing, Ramada Traditional Games, a skateboarding competition, and the Binatbatan Tattto and Band Festival.

The festival concluded with the street-dancing and showdown competition, a regular fixture in recently created Philippines festivals. Contingents of young performers danced on the streets in colorful costumes carrying batbats or bamboo sticks, and mimicking the movements of the batbatin, the traditional process of taking the seeds out of the dried fiber of the kapok, or kapas in Ilokano, by beating the cotton-like material with sticks, which the festival memorializes and from which it derived its name.