When you have been to Panagbenga Festival before, you would think there is nothing new and more to see when you come back. Besides it is the same thing as in the previous years: flower-bedecked floats, children in traditional costumes dancing to engaging music of drum and lyre bands, and a handful of celebrities waving at and taking selfies with the cheering crowd.
I should know; I’ve been there thrice in my lifetime.
But there is something that continues to pull tourists, me included, to Baguio City, even after 23 years since the festival’s first staging.
While flowers undeniably are a big draw for Panagbenga, the festival is more than just the colorful blooms it showcases.
The Panagbenga Festival, which was founded in 1995, was only meant to “bring back tourists and the glory of Baguio” following the 1990 Luzon Earthquake, according to Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. co-chairman Federico Alquiros.
Alquiros admitted that “it was not conceived to be a pure cultural event—there was no pretensions.”
Panagbenga Festival, more than a cultural event, is a celebration of Cordillera region’s ornamental flowers and its peoples’ culture, tradition, creativity, and talent. Perhaps there are only a few festivals in the Philippines where participants spend more money than they could ever win.
All for the honor
Twenty-four big and small floats decked with colorful blooms paraded from Panagbenga Park to Melvin Jones football grounds on Feb. 24.
Participants in the Grand Float Parade competition, composed of public and private entities, BFFFI officials said, had to spend from P150,000 to P350,000 (Small Float category) and from roughly P500,000 to P800,000 (Big Float category) to mount their respective floats. The grand prize, meanwhile, for the winning float is P500,000 for the Big category and P200,000 for the Small category.
Even participants in the Grand Street Dance competition have to dig from their own pockets. Despite the P60,000 government subsidy to each participating group in the Elementary School division, students and their parents have to chip in to fund themselves.
According to Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, the winning team this year spent P400,000 for their props and costumes, choreographer’s fee, and other expenses. Despite this, the children, said Alquiros, still fight for their slots in their respective contingents.
“Actually, it is a sacrifice for them to join, because they spend more than they can win,” said Domogan.
And yet they did and still do, all for the honor of being part of the only Philippine festival accredited by the International Festivals and Events Association that continues to grow bigger and grander every year.
Better floats, more street dancers, bigger stars
“The quality of floats this year was better [than in the previous years]. Even the hall of famers—such as Baguio Country Club, SM Baguio, and NLEx—did a lot of improvements on their entries,” enthused Domogan.
Master Siomai’s charming flower-and-siomai float bagged the grand prize in the Big Float category, while the colorful floats of M. Lhuillier and Sitel took home the second and third spot, respectively.
The tiger of Maybank’s flower float made a roaring return this year clinching the first place in the Small Float category, followed by Saleng Metro Pacific in second spot and Coca-Cola in third place.
Adding more color and cheer to the Grand Float Parade were GMA stars Glaiza de Castro, Miss World 2013 Megan Young, Mikael Daez, Matt Evans, Jak Roberto, and Ruru Madrid who came in full force aboard the GMA Regional TV’s float; Ang Probinsyano cast, led by the singing Coco Martin, on ABS-CBN’s float; Empoy Marquez aboard the winning M Lhuillier float; Dionesia Pacquiao waving at the crowd while on Palawan Express float; and the NLEx Road Warriors cagers marching ahead the NLEx float entry.
The presence of celebrities and other noted personalities in the festival surely made the audience’s wait worth their while—huge crowd and traffic, notwithstanding.
The 2018 edition of Panagbenga Festival also saw its largest number of Grand Street Dance competition participants to date. Eight groups joined in the Elementary School division, five in High School division, and 14 in the Open category, which is open to other schools and groups outside of Baguio City and the entire Cordillera region—in a bid to make the festival an inclusive event.
Bagging the first prize in the three divisions were Baguio Central School (Elementary), University of the Cordilleras High School (High School), and Saint Louis University (Open).
Festival for all
The month-long festivities were once again successful and orderly, thanks to the festival’s generous supporters, participants, and more than 8,000 volunteers.
Panagbenga is the perfect example that a festival, no matter how grand the showcase or how strictly cultural the intentions, will only truly be successful with the support of the whole community.
“Volunteers are honored and they feel that this is their festival so they contribute what they can,” said Domogan.
At the end of the day, when the floats have been decked with all the colorful blooms available and the dances have been performed, the most important thing is community participation—when people, from Cordillera or not, are honored to be part of and witness the festival.
That, I believe, is the reason why people keep coming back to Baguio City’s Panagbenga Festival.
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