Panagbenga – the Tai-chi of Philippine Festivals

Panagbenga – the Tai-chi of Philippine Festivals

(Opinion piece)

The Panagbenga Festival is the most anticipated event celebrated every February in the UNESCO Creative City of Baguio. Also known as the Baguio Flower Festival started in 1995 when Baguio City was recovering from the devastation of the 1990 Luzon earthquake. Conceived as a way to boost the economy and lift the spirits of locals, the festival emerged as a celebration of renewal and rebirth. “Panagbenga” is a Kankanaey term that translates to “season of blooming” or “a time for blossoming,” reflecting the festival’s focus on the beauty and vitality of nature.

The people who conceptualized the festival came from the hospitality business, one of Baguio’s biggest industries that has high employment. But Panagbenga was conceived not only to promote the hospitality industry but also to boost farming most especially the flower industry in the surrounding municipalities. The concept was to create an event during a time when tourism was at its weakest and demand for the flower industry was low. This way, the industry will continue to thrive during the lean season.

Panagbenga is also a festival not dedicated to Saints like many famous Filipino festivals that are primarily religious in origin. Panagbenga was created with a purpose, not only as a celebration but to revitalize and keep the hospitality, flower, and now the creative industry afloat during the lean season. So was it commercial in nature? I do believe it is as it was conceptualized to boost Baguio’s economy.

Was Panagbenga successful in its original purpose to boost the tourism and flower industry during the lean season? I guess the traffic condition that we all complain about proves that this festival is indeed attracting people and the hospitality industry is boosting its casual employment during the Panagbenga season, and that includes even the small players like the small cafes, homestays, and even the sidewalk vendors. No matter how much we hate the accompanying traffic, people’s businesses do get boosted during this event. So I guess we have to be more forgiving of the heavy traffic if our “kailyans” get a good chance to earn.

Panagbenga has created its own culture as well and we all think of flowers every time we hear the word. What’s more? When we hear the beat of Panagbenga, we won’t be thinking of the fast-paced dances of other Philippine festivals like the Sinulog. We think of a slow-moving dance just like swaying flowers in the wind, similar to the traditional Bendian dance of Benguet.

I remember when we changed the pace of the Panagbenga hymn in 2006 if I remember it right to be at par with the other fast-paced dances of other festivals like the Sinulog of Cebu because our dances were too slow and not as lively at the Aliwan Festival, it was disappointment to some because the traditional moves where the dancers imitate the swaying flowers were gone and it was becoming just like the other festivals.

It was eventually returned to its original pace as composed by Dean Macario Fronda, which was indeed based on the Ibaloy Tribe’s Bendian dance music. The circular motion of the Bendian dance speaks of unity and harmony among the members of the tribe, which was the idea of uniting together the different sectors of the city to bring the flower festival to life.

We may not win any competition when we compete with other fast-paced dances of other festivals but we can say we are different. It’s like performing Tai-chi while all the others are doing fast-paced Karate or Taekwondo katas.

As Baguio City is celebrating another edition of the Panagbenga Festival, it is a time for celebration and reflection. The festival serves as a reminder of the resilience and vitality of the community, even in the face of adversity. Panagbenga is not only about the parades and trade fairs. There are several activities that we can join, like the “Let a thousand flowers bloom” family painting activities where you can unleash your creative talents. There is also the landscaping competition. Why not try the food and crafts at the fairs?

We may not want to mingle in the worst traffic situations during the parades or the throngs of people at the Session Road in Bloom, but we should prepare ourselves beforehand how to deal with it and avoid the stress.

If we hate joining the crowd, then perhaps it is time for us to reflect at home and finish a delayed project. Or instead of our usual excursion to the city, go somewhere else and visit the neighboring towns that we have not yet explored. After all, the festival was also about helping the farmers in the surrounding municipalities. Maybe this is the time for you to discover other places other than the Central Business District. Perhaps we can discover other cafes or restaurants in Tublay especially if you’re coming from Camp Dangwa or Tomay like me. Driving to town takes an hour or more, so why not dine at Tayao Gardens or Polig’s Farm?

Or you can take the Longlong road and go to Halfhalf in Sablan. It may be farther but travel time will be the same. Or check the sprouting cafes along Ambuclao Road. We have several cafes lining that road from Arca’s Yard to Via Von Joy Café in Sabkil. Perhaps go via Loakan to Kadaclan at M&N Viewdeck Café.

Don’t get stressed by the negative things that come with Panagbenga. Like a flower swaying in the direction of the wind, let’s try to flow with the direction that Panagbenga is going and find ways to cope as the Baguio Flower Festival is here to stay and it will add more wrinkles if you get stressed every February. Taichi is a great activity to de-stress, so when stressed, why not do taichi while playing the Panagbenga hymn? If you don’t know taichi, dance the Bendian or the Panagbenga dance.


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