AS SUNFLOWERS, petunias, bonsai plants, and rose cacti decorate the public spaces in the city of Baguio at this time of the year when it holds the Panagbenga Festival, visitors learn that neither earthquakes nor viruses can keep a good city down.

On July 16, 1990, the Luzon Earthquake devastated Baguio City. Five years later, Damaso E. Bangaoet, Jr., who was John Hay Poro Point Development Corp. (JPDC) Managing Director for Camp John Hay, proposed and spearheaded the celebration of a flower festival in Baguio City as a way of raising the city from the depths it was brought to by the natural calamity. Approved by the Board of Directors of JPDC, it was decided that it be held every February.

Before the end of 1996, the flower festival acquired the local name “Panagbenga” from a Kankanaey term which means “season of blooming.” Since then, the festival has continued to be held annually and lasts a month.

With the theme “Blooming Through the Years,” the Panagbenga is marking its 25th celebration this year.

This year, the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFFI) is bankrolling the entire festival this year, allocating P18 million for it. In the past, the festival recieved contributions from the Office of the Mayor.

“The city used to allocated P4 million in funds but we came into agreement with the mayor this year that we channel the P4 million instead to (Baguio City Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong’s) environmental projects,” Frederick Alquiros, former Chief Operating Officer of Camp John Hay Development Corp. and co-founder of the BFFFI told media visiting from Manila on Jan. 31.

“We at the foundation would like to still consider the festival as an LGU-private sector endeavor. Although they (Office of the Mayor) are not funding for the running of the event, they are granting us space in the city to generate funds,” he added.

He was referring to trade fair booths which will be set up along Session Road and the Baguio Convention Grounds during scheduled activities.

On the afternoon of Jan. 31, Mayor Magalong announced the postponement of crowd-drawing events

“We are doing this because we would just like to be pro-active about it. We are very much concerned about the health of our residents and visitors in the city, and we’re just making sure that we are doing everything pre-emptive,” Mr. Magalong said in a press conference streamed live on the official Facebook page of the city’s Public Information Office.

Among the events that have been postponed or cancelled were the opening parade of the Drum and Lyre Elementary Division with eight participating schools which was scheduled on Feb. 1; the 2020 Cordillera Administrative Region Athletic Association (CARAA) event on Feb. 16 to 21; the Sunday pedestrianization and art activities along Session Road; and the International Jazz Festival scheduled on March 2 to 7.

“We might push through with it depending on the events that would evolve in the next three weeks,” Mr. Magalong told the press on Feb. 1 after the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Baguio Blooms Landscaping Exposition and Exhibition at the Baguio Convention Center.

As of Feb. 5, the health department’s novel coronavirus 2019 tracker said that one patient has been admitted and is under investigation at the Cordillera Administrative Region. There are no confirmed cases of the virus in the area.

“We continuously send out advisories to the public from the Department of Health regarding the virus and preventive measures,” Mr. Magalong said, warning the public to “avoid crowds.”

The mayor also clarified that the city is not on lockdown. “We’d like to make it clear that we are not locking down the city. Tourists can still visit the city and enjoy our amenities, and at the same time our good weather, and our environment,” he added.

Despite the postponement of the opening parade, the festival must go on.

It was a chilly 10.6 °C in the morning of Feb. 1 when the flower festival officially commenced with ecumenical prayers, followed by opening messages from Mayor Magalong, BFFFI Chairman for Life Mauricio G. Domogan, and Baguio Congressman Mark Go; and a special performance by the Gibraltar Cultural Society.

After the ceremonies, the Baguio Blooms Landscaping Exhibition and Competition was opened at the Baguio Convention Center parking area.

Eighteen participating landscapers were given a subsidy of P70,000 to design gardens in three categories: carpet, open, and vertical. The landscapes are scattered around the city — at the Baguio Convention Center, along Session Road, at the Burnham Park Lake, and at the City Hall.

One of the landscapers, Freddie Ciano, described working on his landscape — located in Burnham Lake — as a way “to take away the stress” from painting. Mr. Ciano’s entry consists of a hut with Cordillera weaving equipment and textiles, and plants in pink painted pots. This is the first time he has joined the competition.

The Baguio Blooms Landscaping Exhibition is on view until March. 8. After the competition, the gardens at the Session Road rotunda, at lower Session Road, and at the City Hall will be maintained by the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEMPO).

Meanwhile, the pageantry that the Panabenga is known for has not been cancelled as 25 floats expected to participate in the Panagbenga Grand Float competition parade on March 1.

“It was part of the flower festival to maintain the Cordillera culture and to tell the world that the Cordillera culture still exists,” Mr. Alquiros said. “Baguio is proud to be part of the Cordillera.”

For information and updates on the schedule of activities, visit the official Facebook page of Baguio City’s public information office or at — Michelle Anne P. Soliman