April 17, 2024

As a kid, we grew up in Trancoville amidst wild sunflowers called “marapait” in the vernacular.
Carabao Mountain, now Quirino Hill, was alive with pine trees and in between flowers aplenty and from afar during summer was a sight to see on a sunny day.
After a game or two of “shantung”, collecting “juju” or gathering “tungsoy”, I and our friends with brother Eric would usually walk the road behind Don Bosco Church to a place called “batis” where we would take a dip and clean up in the nearby “ubbog”.
There were sunflowers all over the hills and danes, not the large cultured ones but tiny long stemmed green leafy and yellow petal ones. They would bow down with the breeze of a wind and stood tall on dry days. Its leaves were bitter tasting and during our naughty moments, we would gather the dried ones, roll it out like a tobacco, light it up and take turns smoking and enjoying its menthol taste.
When one gets cut, wounded or have abrasions, the mang Kepweng and first aid solution is “dikdikin” the fresh leaves with stones – the verb is “durugin”, meaning pulverize – crush into small portions until its nectar comes out and apply to the wound. For better and faster relief, spit on the crushed leaf, so we say and believed then.
So, where have all the sunflowers gone in this modern world of ours?
Baguio has transformed into a complex and urban city, no longer our city of greenery and dreams.
The marapaits of our time are now memories of the past. At our law office during coffee breaks, our senior Judge Nanding Cabato and Dammy Bangaoet would tell war stories about the trees and flowers in our neighborhood, Malvar and Camdas, respectively; and Dammy, the suave and romantic gentleman that he is, says the yellow petals were the best measure whether you would get the girl of your dreams picking the petals one by one and murmuring “she loves me, she loves me not,” until all of it is gone. Then you would know and follow your destiny.
It was a good thing that when manong Dammy left the law firm and joined John Hay, dreamer as he was, he conceptualized the Panagbenga – let the flowers bloom – to revive the aching Baguio economy after the devastation from the earthquake. It was a better thing that St. Louis University band master Mac Fronda composed the music and blended in.
Nobody ever promised that the city would be a “rose garden” forever, but at least the flower festival reminds us who and what we were then, when life was sweet as compared to now, a mix of bitter and sweet.