The flowers of Baguio

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BAGUIO — The temperature was a cool 14.5° Celsius as onlookers stood at the sidelines of Panagbenga Park — the stretch of Session Road and Harrison Road to the Baguio Athletic Bowl that is coopted for Baguio’s yearly flower festival — as elementary students from 11 schools, along with local government officials and Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadets, paraded in colorful costumes, carried flower props, and showed off their dance moves.

Baguio City ushered in the 23rd Panagbenga (a Kankanaey term for “a season for blossoming”) Festival, with the theme “Celebration of Culture and Creativity,” on Feb. 1 with opening ceremonies that included a street dance parade of the elementary schools division, a drum and lyre competition, and the opening of the Baguio Blooms exposition and exhibition.

This year’s festivities have been in the works since July 2017, with Panagbenga Festival chief-of-staff Vanj Payno and Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFI) co-chair Freddie Alquiros noting during a briefing with visiting media on Jan. 31 at The Manor that a boxing competition and a showcase of works by resident Baguio artists such as film director Kidlat Tahimik and National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera at Malcolm Square have been added to this year’s lineup of events. The latter is in line with Baguio’s being named as a creative city by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Over the past few years, Baguio has gained a reputation for terrible traffic, especially at peak seasons like Christmas and the Panabenga Festival. In part as a reaction to this, Ms. Payno said that Victory Liner buses plying the Metro Manila to Baguio routes during the run of the festival will play promotional videos encouraging guests to walk in the mountain city during the festivities.

“We re-route traffic during those two days (Feb. 24 and 25) because undoubtedly we close so many roads for the parade. We have to really re-route traffic. So, we really encourage people to park outside of the central business district and just walk to watch the parade in their own strategic areas where they would like to be,” Mr. Alquiros added.

Among the festivals highlights are the Baguio Blooms Exposition and Exhibition which is ongoing until March 4 at Juan Luna and Lake Drive; a kite flying competition, flower show, and cultural show on Feb. 11 at the Melvin Jones Grandstand and football grounds; the Flower Tee Open Golf Tournament on Feb. 16 at the Baguio Country Club and Camp John Hay; the Grand Street Dance Parade on Feb. 24 at Panagbenga Park; the Grand Float Parade on Feb. 25 along Session Road, Maharlika, Harrison Road to the Melvin Jones football grounds; Pony Boys Day on March 3 at Wright Park; and the closing ceremonies and awardings on March 4 which will be capped by a fireworks display. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman