Undoubtedly, Baguio city’s Panagbenga is one of the best attended in the country’s many festivals. Every year, during the month of February, thousands of visitors flock to the city to witness the many different activities of the ‘flower festival.’
Visitors are mostly Filipinos from the rest of the country, though it is not uncommon to see many foreign visitors during the activities. Foreign visitors or tourists, whether they purposefully come to attend the Panagbenga or were just coincidentally in Baguio during the festival, are however outnumbered by Filipino local ‘tourists.’
Perhaps a major reason why the Panagbenga is well-attended is the city’s cold climate, with temperatures reaching their lowest during February just before the climate starts warming up in March. The chance to experience the coldest part of the year in the country’s coldest city continues to be a major attraction, in itself, for local tourists.
That the anniversary of EDSA I is on the month of February provides for a convenient holiday for the staging of the more elaborate activities of the Panagebenga, namely the float parade and the street dancing parade.
The annual graduation at the Philippine Military Academy is also in the month of February also contributes to the congregation of visitors to witness the graduation and the Panagbenga.
Even without the cold of Baguio, the EDSA holiday and the PMA graduation, the Panagbenga has over the years developed into a truly spectacular event that would attract many visitors.
And so every February, Baguio expects hundreds of thousands of visitors. It is no boast that during the float and street dancing parades this year, close to half a million people were estimated to have massed in Baguio City’s central business district.
The Panagbenga’s ‘Session in Bloom’ after these parades also provides for a continuation of the festival that draws hundreds of thousands each day to flock to Session. As do the ‘market encounter’ landscaping displays and other activities in the city.
There is no doubt that the Panagbenga gives a big boost to Baguio’s commerce, for each of the visitors, with local Baguio and Benguet residents who join the festival, spend in the City’s many shops, and the hotels and restaurants expect a boost in their revenues during February. The city’s market is also flooded, and it is predictable that prices adjust to the bigger demand.
If such an influx of people is a gauge of the festival’s success, then the people of Baguio are rightfully proud of themselves for the annual Panagbenga extravaganza.
Yet therein also lies the problem, for the Panagbenga is primarily a commercial event, a scheme to make people part with their money in exchange for the beautiful presentations and sights that the city has to offer. It provides opportunities for businesses in the city to earn oodles of money from the hundreds of thousands of visitors that the Panagbenga draws. Such businesses include the hotels and restaurants, souvenir shops, market vendors, store owners, mall shops, and most other businesses in the central business district. The entrepreneurs who set up temporary stalls in the ‘Session in Bloom’ and ‘market encounter’ are included here.
If the half million who attended last weekend’s activities spent just a thousand pesos each, that translates to half a billion pesos each day of revenues for the businesses to divide among themselves. Such a windfall would justify the expenses that the city government shells out to host the event. From a commercial point of view, it is a huge success.
On the downside, the congregation of people puts a severe strain on the City’s facilities. The water problem that besets the city year round worsens many times over the Panagbenga. Aside from the pesos they bring in, the half million extra people also use up millions of liters of water, so that the city’s water district would need to concentrate supply to the central business district, to the detriment of residents in other areas of the city. The deep well water pumps are sure to have been running at full capacity to do this, and even then water is sure to have been at a shortage, with water delivery businesses getting their share of the boon by stepping up their operations and firing up their own pumps to provide the city’s visitors with water.
There is doubt that such stress on the city’s water table was considered at all. There is doubt that the effects of the excessive strain on the water supply was ever thought of.
Another downside is the traffic that plagues Baguio every Panagbenga. Bad enough during regular days, the standstill during the Panagbenga is a spectacle in itself, with chaos a regular occurrence as visitors and locals jockey around the narrow streets in the attempt to get to their destinations.
Perhaps the biggest downside is that residents of Metro Baguio are the minority in the City’s premier event. Statistics are not definite, but it is safe to presume that less than a fourth of those gathered last weekend were from Metro Baguio. So the spectacular shows of the Panagbenga serve not to entertain and awe the local residents themselves, but visitors from out of town.
Much as they would want to witness the world-famous Panagbenga events, locals mostly stay at home to avoid the massive crowds. It is only the more intrepid locals who join visitors as they stake out the better viewing places in the city streets early in the morning before the big events. Many, visitors and locals alike, often wait overnight so they could get the best views.
The less intrepid would have to be content with less-strategic places. Either way, however, the press of the crowd during the big events is also stressful. Many would be disappointed for not having a good view, and many more would be disappointed because they were crushed in the crowd.
Petty crime during Panagbenga also rockets, with pickpockets, bag slashers, and other lumpen characters sould also flock to Baguio, joining the local thieves, but this is another story in itself.
So the Panagbenga is a success, but it is a success more for businesspersons in the central business district.
For the rest of the city’s people, what the Panagbenga means is heavy traffic, lack of water, and higher prices of goods.
Even then, they are proud of the Panagbenga’s success. What is lacking, ultimately, is for the biggest winners to give back to the people a little something to compensate them for their jubilant misery.
The University of Perpetual Help from Biñan, Laguna performs a “Baguio Metamophosis-influenced” exhibition during the Panagbenga Street dancing parade. Redjie Melvic Cawis PIA