April 24, 2024

I had a long chat with Eric Jonathan Picart, a fraternal brother in the Baguio Jaycees, the Apaches, and a bosom friend, who is on a more than month-long “apostolic” mission in Bicol together with lovely wife, Fran, partly to avoid the madding crowd brought about by the Panagbenga Festival. I told him that for several years now, we just stayed home or left Baguio during the Panagbenga days.
Unknown to many people of Baguio, Eric, who was a project officer of the Development Academy of the Philippines and a master planner, was the architect of the Baguio Flower Festival, the forerunner of the Panagbenga.
He fondly remembers that in 1995when he was working as department manager at the John Hay Poro-Point Development Corporation (JPDC), the board of directors was looking for an activity that will fill in the economic slack in Baguio in between the Christmas holiday season and the Holy Week.
JPDC was then a subsidiary of the Bases Conversion Development Authority and so it must submit projects to justify its funding operations. Eric conceptualized a community-led flower festival, with activities to involve the schools, barangays, and business establishments.
The late Atty. Damaso Bangaoet, Jr., who was the managing director of the JPDC, liked the concept and so Eric and the JPDC staff members met in order to come up with a budget to fund the activity which Bangaoet has presented to the BCDA.
The Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFFI) was organized, the membership of which included representatives from the JPDC, the city government, educational and business institutions. Eventually, a P3 million budget for a week-long activity was approved and the first Baguio Flower Festival was held in 1996.
The weeklong festival included a parade of the JPDC officers, public officials, barangay officials, market vendors associations, pony boys, civic organizations, a street dancing accompanied by the drum and lyre corps of the different schools in Baguio, market encounter at the Burnham Park where products of Baguio residents were displayed and sold. After the opening parade, Session Road was closed for three days as a breather from air pollution (that was why it was called “Session Road In Bloom”).
It became a promenade where sidewalk cafes may be put up. On the last day of the festival was the float parade. The first flower festival was a resounding success and income was accounted for by the BFFF.
The income generated was supposed to grant scholarships to artistically inclined students particularly in music and visual arts and upgrade the musical instruments of the public schools that joined the festival. Each year, the participation of the schools and their performances improved and so did the market encounter find innovations, as well as that of the “Session Road In Bloom”. The quality of the floats adorned with flowers improved through the years.
For seven years, Eric was active in the management of the flower festival. He developed and formulated a manual of operations and turned over this thick book to the BFFFI. It contains a step-by-step procedure for the conduct of each Panagbenga activity.
Many observe that the Panagbenga is now over-commercialized as in fact, what was considered to be a community-led one-week festival has stretched to a month-long series of activities to accommodate more money-making enterprises that has stretched the carrying capacity of the city affecting its resources.
These inconvenienced not only the residents but also the tourists who cut short their stay in Baguio because of traffic woes, water and transportation shortage, among others.
Many Baguio residents escape to the beach or other tourist destinations away from the Panagbenga madding crowd. They feel disconnected. The Panagbenga no longer belongs to the residents who have to bear with the tourist prices of goods and services, compete for parking spaces, bear with overcrowded market and sidewalks.
The BFFF may have raked in millions but it sacrifices the city’s ecological balance and well-being.
Eric suggests a review of the activities of the Panagbenga in order make it tourist-friendly and prolong their stay in a comfortable way without affecting the convenience of the Baguio residents who may then remain in the city and enjoy its “blooming”.