Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gloom, Blooms, Boom!

The float of Baguio City depicts its well-known landmark, a giant lion’s head

Typhoon Crising had reached Manila by the time we boarded the bus for Baguio City. It seemed an inauspicious start for a trip. Eventually, the typhoon would flood several areas in Metro Manila and leave four people dead. A few hours earlier, a bus carrying students and teachers from Marinduque on an educational trip had collided with a truck along Marcos Highway in Badiwan, Tuba, Benguet, a few kilometers from Baguio, with seven fatalities and many injured. A couple of days after, someone tossed a grenade inside an office under the Melvin Jones Grandstand at Burnham Park, just before the grand float parade started at the historical core of Baguio City. There were pickpockets and petty criminals descending on the festival crowd, but the people would not be discouraged. Likely they were incognizant of the unfortunate events. They flocked to Baguio City to enjoy its famous nippy air and the Panagbenga: Baguio Flower Festival, the highlight of which transpired in the last weekend of February. The gloom turned to blooms, a myriad of multicolored blooms.
According to Baguio congressman Bernardo Vergara, the police estimated visitors to be 2.2 million this year, the highest attendance in the festival’s 18-year history. Attendance is steadily increasing about 10 percent every year, said businessman Freddie Alquiros, chairman of the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation (BFFFI), which operates, organizes and manages the Panagbenga festival. This, despite the mishaps and this year’s coincidental celebration of the similarly pictographic Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta at the Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Baguio City, about 250 kilometers north of Manila, has always been a favorite getaway, particularly in Luzon. Because of its elevation, it enjoys a cool climate attracting people who want to escape the tropical heat. Visitors would go to the city’s different tourist spots and shop for now iconic Baguio items such as grass brooms (which is actually made outside Baguio), strawberries, jams and fresh vegetables. Despite emerging destinations in the Philippines, Baguio, with its American colonial look, remains a romantic and sentimental place for many people. Baguio is also the educational and commercial hub of the Cordillera region. The Panagbenga gives people another reason to visit the City of Pines.
Long-time Baguio City mayor Mauricio Domogan said, “When it (Panagbenga) was founded, there were four major reasons. (Until now) it is an occasion for us to thank the Lord, especially for the trees, the flowers, the natural environment. It is an opportunity for the people of Baguio, as well as of the Cordilleras, to gather and work together and have fun. It is also an opportunity to show our unique cultural heritage. That’s why there is a Cordillera motif in many aspects of the festival. We are also doing this to sustain our tourism industry.”

Country maidens romanticizing the harvest of rice on the float of the Department of Agrarian Reform

Hall of famer M Lhuillier’s float carries pop star Gary Valenciano, one of the several celebrities who grace the festival

 The float of Northern Luzon Expressway Corp. which won second prize

The Panagbenga: Baguio Flower Festival was created by lawyer Damaso Bangaoet Jr., then managing director of Camp John Hay, formerly an American military recreation facility, of the John Hay Poro Point Development Corporation in 1996. During this time, many places in the country were developing festivals for merry gathering, as well as promotion. The flower was chosen as focal point because it is the most visible and attractive feature of Baguio. Indeed, the city has many pocket gardens, and parks are usually abloom. With support from the local government and communities, the festival blossomed. Its unique feature, at least compared to other festivals in the country, is the parade of floats, which are covered in flowers, inspired by the century-old American New Year’s Day celebration Tournament of Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
Filipinos are fond of stretching festive occasions. The Panagbenga is actually celebrated for a whole month with activities such as expos, fairs, shows and competitions. Every year, they introduce new features. This year, they had the carpet of flowers at the Athletic Bowl.
While the Panagbenga is spectacular, some have considered it an “artificial” festival, not rooted in tradition and commercial in its conception. But in 2007, Oscar Palabyab, then Undersecretary for Tourism Services and Regional Offices of the Department of Tourism (DoT), expressed that Panagbenga’s being a “product of the imagination” (as opposed to tradition) and “purely an invention” as a manifestation of creativity. Sometimes we have to create something, Palabyab said, mentioning that Malaysia built the Petronas Towers, which has become a tourist draw and a distinction of said country. He said we should do something similar in some places in our country, where there isn’t much tradition, heritage and natural resources from which to draw attractions. The Panagbenga is man-made, but, he said, it is “related to what they have right now” — the flowers.
Over the years, the Panagbenga has been trying to incorporate the indigenous cultures of the Cordilleras, home of many ethnic groups such as the Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, Isneg and Bontoc. 

 Cordillera boys carrying huge butterflies on poles

 A breakfast of corned beef, fried rice and eggs made of flowers on the float of corned beef brand Argentina

 The floral float of Baguio Country Club, a perennial winner

 A fluttering butterfly made of flowers from the float of Baguio Country Club

Flower strawberries from the float of La Trinidad, Benguet

The name Panagbenga was adopted in late 1996, a Kankanaey term meaning “a time of flowering” or “blossoming season.” The name was suggested by Ike Picpican, an archivist and curator of the Saint Louis University Museum. Lately, Cordilleran cultures have been featured more and more. This was evident during the street dancing parade organized by the Baguio Cultural Society. The organization was created three years ago to inject more culture into the festival, particularly in the street dancing event, fulfilling BFFFI's aim of strengthening the cultural aspect of the festival, related Alquiros. Thus, one can see culture in the street dancing and flowers on the floats, the two biggest aspects of the festival, said Anthony de Leon, Baguio Country Club general manager and BFFFI co-chairman.
"The quality of the street dancing and the floats has surpassed those from previous years," revealed De Leon.
The street dancing, which happened on Feb. 23, was participated in by 13 groups from Baguio and nearby communities. They paraded together with the elementary school drum and lyre groups around the city's historical core. Each group depicted local folklore, legend or tradition. Traditional clothes were worn. Many had bright costumes to stand out, sometimes creating an incongruous mix of indigenous textiles and modern materials and colors.
Last year's winner, the Kabayan Youth Cultural Dance Troupe of Kamora National High School in Kabayan, Benguet, is also this year's winner in the street dancing open category. They brought their Adivay Festival, a celebration of good harvest, and told the story of Gadate, who helped save the town and the harvest of kintoman, a sweet variety of rice said to be from Bugan, goddess of grains.
"It is also Bugan who sent the snake when the people forgot to do the cañao as thanksgiving," they stated. "In Gadate's dream, the snake told him to ask his people to perform the cañao and offer liver and tapuey, a rice wine. When he followed as instructed, the snake left Kabayan but went to Kapangan. The people of Kapangan sought the help a mambunong, a local priest from Kabayan. The mambunong made the snake sleep and was able to slay the snake. As reward, he was given carabaos and pigs. He brought the head of the snake to Kabayan and celebrated the conquest, shouting 'Adivay!' with the dancing of the cañao and bindiyan. The gods were pleased, and so Kabunyan rewarded them with good harvest and flowering sceneries as a sign of goodwill."
The Litangfan Cultural Group from Bontoc, Mountain Province, won the second prize with their Te-er si Saray-at, the eight-day rest period observed after the planting activity. The rituals and traditions of each of the eight days were depicted.
The third place winner, Apayao Ipasindayaw from the province of Apayao, depicted the kabinnulig, explained as "the strong relationship between a farmer and his carabao."
Their narrative read like a tender love story: "Early in the day of a planting season, this kind of companionship starts with the farmer preparing the carabao for a long day of work in planting caravasa seeds. After three months, the field turns into a haven of caravasa flowers, signifying the hopes of both farmer and carabao. As the flowers turn into young squash, the friendship between farmer and carabao is sealed and promises a bright future for both of them. The abundance of flowers and squash signifies the deities' blessings to the people of Apayao. As a form of thanksgiving, the people perform the taddo and talip in rich and colorful Apayao regalia. The feasting and merrymaking are highlighted by the kabinnulig's haul of ripe squash in the karison, or wooden cart, which marks the farmer's role of returning the favor for a carabao's job well done by taking care of the animal-friend until the next planting season."

 Giant flowers enliven a street dance

 Litangfan Cultural Group of Bontoc, Mountain Province

 Sakusak Traditional Ensemble of Pinsao National High School  

The rest of the participants also showcased their own traditions and stories. The Tanghalang Teatro Pino of Pines City National High School depicted the hulin, a ritual in Bokiawan, Hungduan, Ifugao. Baguio City National High School's Teatro Mi Pengantaay Pagey told the story of Iowak, the hero of a Benguet folktale from Itogon. The Bampkabia Cultural Dance Troupe of Baguio City Academy Colleges showed the traditional wedding feast of Bontoc called chono. The Philexian from St. Louis High School Philex depicted the Kankanaey thanksgiving ritual.
The Tabuk Matagoan from Tabuk City, Kalinga, showed their abuyog, the practice of helping each other "on rotation basis." Also from Tabuk, Saint Theresita's School of Tabuk's Bumabanga Ti Kalinga extolled the traditional pottery of the town of Pasil. Tsinakhon Cultural Ensemble of Saint Louis University Laboratory High School depicted the practices of planting rice during the tsakhon, the dry season. The Sakusak Traditional Ensemble of Pines City National High School Annex displayed the insalay rain ritual from Abra. Saint Louis University's Cordillera Cultural Performing Group told the story of the tikgi bird of the Tingguian of Abra. The Tribu Ari-tau from Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, showed the Benguet's ngayow, the victory ritual.
The following day, the float parade drew more people. Because it is expensive to make a float of flowers, the parade is participated in mostly by companies, which find it a colorful way to advertise. With the election season a few months away, politicians are known to take advantage of festivals to campaign. Festival organizers decided to discourage them from campaigning. They said that political candidates can join the event by riding on their floats, but distributing campaign materials, as well as going to the crowd were discouraged. Violators will be banned. Soap brand Placenta remains banned for disrupting the parade when its celebrity endorser Melanie Marquez and her companions threw product samples at the crowd. 
Vergara boasted that Panagbenga is the most organized, the most peaceful and cleanest this year.
The floats followed the guideline that 95 percent of their floats should be covered with flowers. Although there is no restriction on where participants get their flowers, all of them sourced their flowers from farms in the Cordillera region, particularly in La Trinidad, Tublay, Tuba and Sablan in Benguet, boosting the local cut flower industry.
Celebrities such as Robin Padilla, Bong Revilla, Rhian Ramos, Daniel Matsunaga and Gary Valenciano rode on some of the floats, exciting the crowd.
The Le Monet Hotel float clinched the first prize this year followed by the floats of the Department of Agrarian Reform and North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). There were a total of 19 floats, including the ones from the city of Baguio, the Baguio Country Club, SM City Baguio, Psalmstre, Creworks Asia, Smart Communications, Jollibee Foods Corp., Taloy Norte Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative, GMA Network, ABS-CBN Network, International Pharmaceuticals Inc., San Miguel Brewery, the town of La Trinidad in Benguet and M Lhuillier.  
That day, Session Road in Bloom, also a crowd drawer, opened transforming the historic street into a colorful market of native products and of course flowers.
Vergara is optimistic that next year's festival would be bigger especially with the extension of the Nlex up to Rosario, La Union, dramatically shortening the traveling time from Manila to Baguio, which usually takes about eight hours.
Many Baguio-based companies are supportive of the Pangabenga. Among the biggest are The Manor at Camp John Hay and The Forest Lodge, promoting the festival, providing guests with lovely accommodations and delectable dishes from its restaurant whose chef is the renowned Billy King at the helm, and ensuring that they experience the festival as a downpour of merriment, a collision of colors and an explosion of excitement.

St. Louis University’s Cordillera Cultural Performing Group tells the Tingguian story of birds called “Say-ang” in its street dance

 The ethnic and the tawdry mix during the street dance parade

  Tanghalang Teatro Pino of Pine City National High School