Baguio struggles to keep flower fest’s allure

Mar 4, 2017

OVER two decades ago when the Panagbenga started as a sprout of hope aimed to revive the people who were left in the ruins of a city devastated by the 1990 killer earthquake, the festival offered comfort like a bud, freshly showered by mist and dew, already giving a hint of its wonderful scent in the crisp morning air after a dreary night.
Since 1995, Panagbenga enticed visitors with vivid colors and lively performances staging the culture and tradition in the city of Baguio while promoting community spirit. It rejuvenated the tourism industry and paved the way for more economic investments in the city, once again raising Baguio among the top destinations in the Philippines, not only in terms of attractions but also in education and business sectors.
Twenty-two years hence, Panagbenga’s blossom is still vivid and lively though through the years of staging the month-long festival, the celebration is gradually providing lesser distinctiveness from among the many festivals in the country.

Security and safety stagnate through the years:
Every year, tourists both foreign and local, flock to Baguio in tens to hundreds of thousands to witness the two most anticipated and most watched parades, the grand street parade and the grand float parade. As the number of tourists increase, year after year the city prepares to ensure the visitors’ safety and security.
This year, Police Superintendent Ramil Saculles, the newly appointed City Director of Baguio City Police Office (BCPO), did not put all the communication groups and volunteers along the route of the parade.
According to Police Senior Inspector Laborah May Nabunat, public information officer of BCPO, some were deployed to areas outside the parade’s route especially in the 25 identified major critical areas for traffic since three major roads of Baguio were closed.
She assured that the city’s police force is always ready, “may threat man o wala.” And unlike previous years, Nabunat mentioned that since 2014, the “tambuli” group of BCPO in charge of the public announcement system, rounds the parade’s route warning and informing people be aware of their surroundings and take care of themselves and their belongings.
In terms of traffic, PSSupt. Armando Gapuz, head of Traffic Enforcement Unit (TEU)-BCPO, said that similar to previous schemes, he coordinated with the administration of Baguio City National High School, Baguio Central School, Quezon Elementary School, and Mabini Elementary School to accommodate vehicles for parking. He also coordinated with different transport groups, advising them to pave way for the tourists.
However, security preparations for the festival seem to have lost some strength.
“Every year, nagde-decline ang quality ng performance ng operations,” said Felizardo “Bobot” Garcia, previous president of Baguio-Benguet Public Information & Civic Group Philippines (BB-PICAG).
In 1995, when Panagbenga was under the management of John Hay Poro Point Development Corporation, BB-PICAG was part of the executive committee tasked to marshal, arrange the parade, oversee medical operations, and manage crowd control. Garcia was then the president of BB-PICAG. Even when the control over Panagbenga was given to a different foundation, BB-PICAG continues to help in maintaining peace and order through volunteering every year.
Garcia said that in his observation, there have been too many volunteers, but they were “useless”. He cited the example when last year, students under the National Service Training Program (NSTP) were assigned to marshal in the parade. “Ang pagitan (nila) is almost shoulder to shoulder. Paano pa manonood yung taong nanonood?” Garcia added.
Since 1995, Garcia said he witnessed Panagbenga in terms of security and safety. Among other concerns, he said, there is a need for an all-out support to the volunteers from the government. BB-PICAG’s post operation report dated February 28 to March 1, 2015 states, “For this year due to budgetary concerns, we can only operate along the scenic Kennon Road…”
Here, Garcia emphasized the lack of the city government’s support. “Late na late yung pagkain. Pagod na pagod yung volunteer, walang tubig. Volunteer yan eh, mahalin mo volunteer mo,” he said.
Garcia said there is a dire need to conduct trainings, series of meetings, and orientation among stakeholders and volunteers since every year, different people from different groups with various regulations come together to help in Panagbenga. He said, not everybody who participates knows certain protocols like Incident Command System and Crisis Management. Out of all groups involved, two to three only has undergone trainings for these.
Netfali Marilla, present chairman of BB-PICAG, likened the improvement of the operations from the use of abacus to the invention of the computer. “While it (abacus) was successful, people were not satisfied. And through the years, the evolution of a more efficient computer started.”
“Hindi ako naniniwalang wala nang improvement,” Marilla said. Noreen Cruz, UB Intern

The city market’s indifference to Panagbenga:
Strawberries? Vegetables? Highland souvenirs? Baguio City’s public market is teeming with varieties of pasalubong that visitors could choose from.
As the “Season of Blooming” draws a large flock of foreign and local spectators to the city every February, the public market also gets to serve and gain from the tourists looking to buy local products such as jams, with the all-time favorite strawberry flavor though there are also ube and blueberry. Other food products commonly bought as pasalubong include sundot kulangot, lengua de gato, and peanut brittle. Brooms or walis tambo are also among the sought-for products.
Some tourists visit the market seeking strawberries, among other fruits, and highland vegetables mostly imported from the nearby La Trinidad and other neighboring towns in Benguet. These products are offered at fairly cheaper prices in the public market than in supermarkets.
Cut flowers can also be bought in the market though ironically, fresh flowers are less preferred by tourists despite Panagbenga being a flower festival. A flower vendor lamented that even if tourists find the flowers beautiful, they only take photos but they don’t buy any.
Ma. Cristina Agpawa, an eight-year vendor in the market, says that during 2009 was the best Panagbenga because of the numerous tourists who came from different places which helped her business to grow more and 2014 was the worst Panagbenga she encountered because it was not marketable.
Strawberry jams and eight pieces for P100 delicacies were the most purchased products in the market and to compare it last 2016, this year was not that good, tourists are few, she added.
“I was selling goods for eight years and before I was started, the market stall was just a wood, but now it was improved by the government,” Agpawa said.
Market Superintendent Policarpio Tamayo said further renovations are being implemented in the market to improve public facilities. However, he said, there hasn’t been any special plan in the market for this 2017 Panagbenga.
He said that due to the bazaars and trade fairs which are part of the month-long Flower Festival, some vendors in the market lose customers. “Although there are few vendors from the market who also participate in these bazaars and trade fairs,” he said.
As of 2017, the City Treasury Office Market Division recorded 1,870 permanent stalls and 1,002 temporary stalls in the market that pays rental fee.
Tamayo revealed some plans regarding the increase of rental fees, parking fees, and to improve abattoir for the increased number of meat dealers/handlers and also the privatization being suggested from past years. There are problems that cannot be avoid in the market like subleasing of stalls, traffic congestion, peace and order also some market goers refuse to pay for parking fees, he said. Also, the drainage system, garbage disposal, building and electrical wiring are yet to be fixed, he added.
For over 20 years, the festival helped Baguio to promote products and it was being recognized in the Philippines. There are improvements in the market facilities and sales, but there are still things that need to change, Tamayo said. Sarah Balagtas, UC Intern

Panagbenga is a time to travel for pleasure and culture:
Panagbenga is a festival that reflects history, traditions and values of Baguio and thrives through society and community spirit development. This year is its 22nd edition with the theme “Inspired by beauty and nurtured by nature”.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan said that Panagbenga Festival is a big help in the tourism industry and economy of the city. He added that through this festival, the culture of the indigenous people and other Cordillerans has been continually promoted. Domogan also stated that importance of teamwork and cooperation witnessed through Panagbenga.
Since the start of the festival in 1995, the festival has received warm response from local and foreign tourists.
The year 2015 has the highest tourist arrivals while 2005 has the lowest number of attendees during the festival.
Tourists who have enough money usually book in hotels and inns while those who wanted something affordable had chosen transient rooms or rental houses. Through the years, dining and accommodation establishments are steadily increasing in the city. Every February, these establishments experience a boost from the influx of tourists. Some gets full booking as early as three months before the festival. Owners of transient houses, apartments and even bedspacers also benefit from the influx of tourists.
Businesses like restaurants and cafés also offer promos for tourists who wanted a window view to watch the Grand Street Dance Parade and Grand Float Parade at the city’s thoroughfares.
Panagbenga Festival as a month long celebration is an advantage to small businesses due to events like Baguio Market Encounter in Burnham Park and Session in Bloom along Session Road wherein store owners can display and sell their products to tourists and locals.
And though the city and its economy get an evident boost from the festival, the local government has to face the problems brought about by the very thing that keeps the festival alive, the influx of tourists.
“While there are clear positive effects of the celebration such as increase in the entry of tourists, increase in the number of participants, and higher revenue generated by the businesses participating in the event, the government should also invest on how it would be able to repair, or maintain the parks that were used during the celebrations such as Burnham Park, Melvin Jones football grounds, Igorot Park, among others, more so, cleanliness of the city in general as solid waste management has become the primary issue during the celebrations,” observed Vice Mayor Edison Bilog.
In having Panagbenga Festival as an essential element in the history and economy of Baguio, there are still lingering questions and doubts if deviating from other matters and issues is more important, if this month long occasion is worth the losses and sacrifices. Sharmaine Florendo, UP Baguio Intern
The struggle to remain on top:
“Every year [Panagbenga] keeps on improving and getting wider.”
These are the sentiments of the Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Congressman Mark Go. In the 22nd year of the Panagbenga Festival, the two officials agreed that this event continues to improve not only in the quality of the performances and exhibits but also in the line of tourism and participation of volunteers and neighboring places in the execution of the festival.
In his long reign as the city mayor, Domogan is very thankful of the development of Panagbenga every year. He considers this as a great opportunity for both direct and indirect revenue to the economy of the city. It is a way for local people of Baguio to open its door to businesses.
Domogan said he is very happy with the participation of organizations who still participates in the activities of the event despite of the minimal amount of prize that they get as compared to what they spend for the materials they used to join in the competition.
Although Panagbenga Festival is being compared to the other cities for having a lower budget among other known city festivals but still afford to produce a grand event. Domogan proudly claims Panagbenga is not left behind.
He said he is happy that Panagbenga is the first festival in the Philippines to be recognized in the events and festivals in the world. He hopes that Panagbenga will keep in improving.
He also shared a wish that the city’s officials for the coming years will never allow again the problem of Panagbenga in 2005, which for him is the worst Panagbenga because of the very low number of participants and spectators.
Meanwhile, as a neophyte congressman, Go finds this year’s Panagbenga very challenging. He is happy and overwhelmed with this year’s festival even if he had to rush to the city to participate in the event right after his work in the Congress.
The lawmaker commends the work of the organizers for overcoming challenges and being able to come up with a very successful result.
Go mentioned about the bill he passed in congress that supports promoting the nature wellness that every family should plant whenever they’ll have a new born child. So that flowers will bloom in Baguio even if it is not Panagbenga, he said.
Domogan said Panagbenga’s theme this year is a reminder of the people’s obligation to take care of the environment, that the inspiration of the festival is the beauty of the Cordillera and at the same time to continue taking care of nature parallel to the development of Baguio.
For Vice Mayor Edison Bilog, despite the challenges in staging the festival for 22 years, Panagbenga remains the best suited festival for the city as “it still represents the rich historical, socio-cultural, economic and environmental assets of the city of Baguio.”
“The annual celebration has instilled a sense of pride for Baguio residents and such has evolved to a sense of ownership, where one is proud to say that ‘I am from Baguio, home of the ever-famous Panagbenga of Flower Festival,’” the vice mayor said. Aubrey Morales, UC Intern




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