Panagbenga, the annual month-long event that is the Baguio Flower
Festival. Among its institutionalized components are the opening and
closing parades, the parade of floats, the street-dancing parade, the
Market Encounter (a trade fair), and Session Road in Bloom (when
Session Road is closed to vehicular traffic and is filled to brim with
stalls selling, among other things, cellphones, corn and hotdogs…
fine, among others).
One year you may see Baguio's various VIPs fighting over who gets to
captain the Panagbenga ship, and another year they're avoiding it like
the plague. Every year, the current captains move heaven and earth
(lots of it in Burnham Park) to prove that they can do better than
their predecessors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, for every year
we are assured that whoever is at the helm, he, or she, is doing
everything to come up with something better than last year. Panagbenga
has become so big that I make it a point not be in town during the big
events (the parades used to be a joy to watch, but in recent years,
standing for hours craning your neck to get a glimpse of flowery
advertising billboards on wheels has become less and less attractive
for me). If I can't afford to leave town, then I sit in front of the
TV and watch the goings on in the comfort of our living room. And I
particularly find it amusing to watch the bickering between past and
present organizers, politicians, and "concerned citizens."
Anyway, what exactly is my beef? Panagbenga has become a showcase of
what Baguio doesn't have, or of what Baguio has that's ignored by the
powers that be. It is that time of the year when Baguio plays second
fiddle to everything and everyone which/who were brought in to amuse
the tourists. Instead of taking the opportunity to show to the world
what Baguio is all about, we end up being a mere staging area.
We all know that Baguio is not a flower growing community, and even if
we were once a city of flowers, the building frenzy going around the
whole city in the name of development and progress has surely erased
that tag. It would be really great for the city if the festival would
inspire the people of Baguio to make their city a true city of
flowers… but sprucing up one's backyard only once a year does not make
our city one of flowers. We become poseurs.
And I'm just not impressed by pronouncements by organizers that begin
with, "this year we were able to bring in…" followed by, "next year we
hope to be able to bring in…" Bring in? What about doing something
with what we have? Wouldn't it be better to brag about what one was
able to put together with what Baguio does have? Isn't that what most
festivals are about, celebrating traditions and what this or that
place is blessed with and proud to have? And who the hell are the LA Divas and why are we putting a group on center stage whose claim to fame is being copycats of a American pop group?
And to rub salt to injury, when elements from outside are brought in,
the question is, just like true blue mercenaries, "how much?," and
organizers, again, move heaven and earth to come up with the money,
and when locals are lucky enough to be included in the festival's
events at all, they are told not to complain about the dishonorable
honoraria because they're "doing it for Baguio."
It's true, though, what we locals are doing we do it because we love
Baguio, while for the others it's simply just another gig.
Clowns, jesters, poseurs, mercenaries, corn and hotdogs. Oh, what a circus!