Baguio City’s Panagbenga Festival is one of the country’s most popular tourist draws. First conceptualized as a way to revive the city’s tourism industry following the tragic 1990 earthquake, the flower festival has become a symbol of prosperity and hope.
However, this year’s Panagbenga Festival has taken a more somber tone as the Baguio local government cancelled the opening parade after parents aired their concerns over their children’s safety in the midst of the coronavirus health crisis.
Aside from the cancellation of the opening parade, events which were meant to be crowd drawers such as the Cordillera Administrative Region Athletic Association sports festival of which Baguio City would be the host, as well as the Handog ng Panagbenga sa Pamilya Baguio and the International Jazz Festival were postponed and set to be rescheduled, as the city government monitors the development of the heath crisis over the coming weeks.
Despite this, the local government and the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. (BFFFI) decided to push through with the opening of the Panagbenga Festival with a small ceremony held at the Panagbenga Park last February 1.
“When I was making the pronouncement to cancel the opening parade, it was with a heavy heart because I know for a fact that so much time and resources were spent for today’s activity and at the same time, for all the festivities and events that are scheduled for the next three weeks. The one thing that was of paramount concern to us was the health and safety of the general public,” Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said.
The launch of the festival also marked the opening of the Baguio Blooms Exposition, one of the highlights of Panagbenga.
Participants transformed the Baguio Convention Center (BCC) into a paradise of colors as they put up landscaping installations under three categories: vertical, carpet and open.
A total of 54 entries were filed, with 18 participants putting up one installation per category.
Unlike the previous Baguio Blooms events which had the entries located in a single area, this year’s competition saw participants creating their works not just in the BCC grounds, but also in Session Road, Burnham Park and the Baguio City hall grounds.
The ongoing coronavirus crisis might have muted the festivities of the Panagbenga but the BFFFI remains optimistic that things would turn out for the better over the next few weeks and that the culminating events will push through as scheduled.
“We want it to push through. It’s the charter of the foundation to make sure that the festival is around every year. It was a major contributor to the rebuilding of Baguio after the devastation of the earthquake in 1990. We started the Panagbenga in 1996 because we felt that we needed to do something for Baguio as a tourist destination. No matter how small or how meager the Panagbenga Festival becomes due to the coronavirus, the important thing is that it still goes on,” BFFFI co-organizer Freddie Alquiros said.
Magalong said while the bigger events are cancelled, he is still hopeful that the grand finale of the Panagbenga Festival, which is the largest crowd drawer, would push through as scheduled towards the end of this month.
“We have not made any definitive decision regarding the grand street parade and float parade. But we are hoping that we will be able to continue with the event as planned,” he said.
He also reiterated that while the large-scale events are temporarily suspended pending developments of the coronavirus health concern in the next few weeks, tourists are more than welcome to visit the city.
“Baguio is not closing its doors. They can always come over to Baguio City to… enjoy the weather, enjoy the greenery, enjoy our people and our environment. We will continue to be in constant communication with the different sectors and make sure that everybody’s well-informed about developments regarding the health crisis,” Magalong said.