Spirit of volunteerism enlivens Filipino culture and creativity
BEHIND the spectrum, one may find the specks of color that sustain its vibrancy. In this sense, the 8,000 volunteers who helped fuel the prestige of Baguio City’s Panagbenga Festival this year have proven that unity and goodwill are the foremost components of success.
In the past years, the highlands of Northern Luzon have been used to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who trek up the City of Pines every February, the chosen month to pay tribute to Baguio City’s abundance of flowers and vegetation through the Panagbenga flower festival.
Although the globally renowned festival remains popular for its flower-themed float parade and street dancers clad in floral costumes, organizers also invite celebrities, athletes, and other personalities to grace the event to further enchant the crowd and ensure they come back again and again.
Now on its 23rd year, the festival anchored its activities on the theme “Celebrating culture and creativity,” and successfully amassed an estimated 1.5 million tourists.
What makes the Panagbenga festival even more remarkable, however, is the number of people who yearly help city officials in keeping the celebration peaceful, without wanting anything in return. To be sure, ensuring an orderly celebration that is as big as the Panagbenga festival is grueling and labor-intensive for its devoted organizers
Participants and volunteers
According to Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, the 8,000 volunteers to this year’s Panagbenga were comprised of Girls and Boys Scouts, medical practitioners, criminology students, and other individuals from community-oriented civic groups. He noted that about 4,500 of them were deployed in strategic areas of the city to help the Baguio City Police Office control the crowd and guarantee the safety of visitors and participants.
The mayor also said that a thousand volunteers assigned to the environmental committee, which is further comprised of students from the three major universities in the Cordillera region: University of the Philippines-Baguio, University of the Cordilleras, and Saint Louis University.
Proud of how the young people of Baguio City embraced the Panagbenga, Domogan said, “The number of people, especially the young ones who volunteered, that truly inspires us. The feeling and honor that this is their festival and contribute what they can. As you can all see, this festival is a genuine government-community partnership,” he added.
Freddie Alquiros, co-chair of the Panagbenga Flower Festival, said various foundations and companies do their share for the volunteers by providing food on the day of the fiesta, among them the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. or BFFFI.
Alquiros clarified, however, that there are adequate funds for the activities of the festival as well as for those who undertake their respective tasks, owing to the overall appeal of the festival to its long-time supporters.
“Because of the status of Panagbenga now, it isn’t difficult to market [the event]to sponsors,” he said. “They come back every year and help us.”
As a result of the overwhelming support that the festival received this year, the prizes for the grand float parade and the street dance competition had increased to P500,000 and P250,000, respectively.
The cast of ABS-CBN’s prime teleserye “Ang Probinsyano,” led by Coco Martin roused the enthusiasm of the crowd, as the network’s entry in the float parade traversed the road. On the other hand, GMA Network also took part in the weekend festivities with the cast of television series “Sherlock Jr,” “The Stepdaughters,” and the upcoming afternoon drama series “Contessa.”
Domogan said 11 big floats, eight smaller ones, three Hall of Famers, as well as the local government’s own entry had joined the float parade this year. Apart from the country’s biggest networks, the big float category entries were the Department of Agriculture, Jollibee Foods Corporation, Kambal Pandesal-San Miguel Mills Inc., MC Master Siomai Hut Inc., International Pharmaceutical Inc., M. Lhuillier Financial Services, Sitel Philippines Corporation, Montanosa Pastoral Resources Corp./Porta Vaga Mall, and Taloy Norte Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
Meanwhile, IPC-APTS, Igorot Man, Maybank, Palawan Pawnshop, Pradera Verde-Lubao International Balloon and Music Festival, Saleng Garden, Coca-Cola, and Universal Robina Corporation had entries in the small float category.
For the big float competition, Master Siomai won the first prize while the second and third prizes went to M Lhuillier and Sitel. On the other hand, Maybank ranked first place in the small float category, with Saleng Metro Pacific in second place and Coca-Cola in third place.
For the street dance competition, the students of Baguio Central School were declared winners in the elementary school category; the second place went to Apolinario Mabini Elementary School; and the third, to Manuel Quezon Elementary School.
In the high school level, the University of the Cordilleras High School won first prize, while the second and third prizes were bestowed to the Baguio City National High School and Pines City National High School respectively.
Saint Louis University won the first place in the open category, while the Tribu Tinungbo of Pugo, La Union earned second place honors, and Tribu Rambak of Umingan, Pangasinan, the third place.
Alquiros noted that the children at times pull together their own money to augment the expenses for the materials they need for the festival although the local government and the foundation give elementary participants a subsidy of P60,000. This, Alquiros said, allows the children to show their capability and strong desire to win the competition.
“They even make their own costume,” he said.
The festival co-chair added that it was necessary for the committee to further develop the participants’ costumes and performance, which up to this day, serve as the street dance competition’s bread-and-butter. However, the major percentage of the criteria for judging was still allotted for the cultural aspect, he said.
He added that the overall number of participants of the two competitions had increased this year. This led the committee to set a time limit for the participants in order to accommodate all of them and to conclude the activity in decent time.
“Before, because there were less number of participants, they could dance for 15 minutes for their field presentation. Now they have to do seven minutes maximum. In the street, they only have to do a three-minute spot number at most,” he said.
Also, Mayor Domogan clarified that anyone could join the Panagbenga festival street dance, as long as they follow the criteria. “We come up with general criteria because cultural aspect must be included. That’s the cultural attire of the tribes in the Cordilleras,” he said.
Mayor Domogan related that the Panagbenga festival was born 23 years ago out of four major purposes. He said the festival up to this day serves as an opportunity for the people of Baguio City to consider themselves as members of one family, regardless of their tribal origin.
The festival also persuades them to cooperate and work together for the goal of the city. According to the mayor, the festival is an opportunity to showcase Baguio residents’ creativity, culture and tradition.
“That is why if you look at it, we have the component of culture and tradition,” he said.
Among the festival’s aims is also for the people of Baguio City to express their gratitude and appreciation for the blessings of the environment.
“One of Baguio’s major industry is tourism. If we do not include activities of nature, how can you sustain the
tourism industry?” added Domogan.
The mayor also revealed that the range of the visitors and participants of the festival continues to grow annually.
He proudly said that aside from Baguio’s sister cities, the festival was graced by participants from the provinces of Kalinga, Mountain Province, La Union, and Aurora this year, which so far has the largest contingent.
“That is also one thing that makes us happy and inspired to continue doing the festival,” he said.
This year’s edition also served as an opportune time to promote Baguio City’s inclusion to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (Unesco) creative cities list, joining Bandung and Pekalongan in Indonesia, Chiang Mai and Phuket in Thailand, and Singapore’s capital among others.
Domogan added that the Panagbenga festival is also the only festival in the Philippines that was accredited by the International Festival and Events Association (IFEA).
He said the festival earned the accreditation in 2016 and is now added to Baguio City’s numerous titles.
Infrastructure to accommodate growing demand
A great number of people from the lowlands are wondering if Baguio City ever runs out of accommodation due to the number of its regular visitors. But according to Anthony De Leon, general manager of the historic hotel Baguio Country Club, more structures will soon rise in the city, such as mid-rise residential homes that are handled by some of the country’s biggest infrastructure investors and developers.
“As far as the accommodation sector is concerned, it is very high because they know very well that the demand is really huge with regard to tourism outlook in Baguio City,” he said.
While Baguio City experiences peaks in tourist arrivals during the Panagbenga festival in February, Holy Week and summer vacation in April and May, and Christmas season in December, the recent increase owes to the 10-kilometer segment of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, or TPLEX, which extends from Binalonan to Pozorrubio, Pangasinan.
The project shortened travel time from Manila to Baguio City to only three hours from the usual six hours and benefits thousands of vehicles every day.
With the completion of TPLEX, the Summer Capital of the Philippines has become an “overnighter” for the wanderlust of Metro Manila residents seeking break from the stress of the megalopolis.