THE CITY of Baguio blooms in February when it holds its annual flower festival, the Panagbenga — a Kankanaey term which means “a season of blossoming, a time for flowering.” Locals and tourists gather in the streets to view the vibrant, colorful parade of street dances and floats decorated with every flower the region has to offer.

One might ask though — what happens to all the flowers afterwards?

“After we display the floats for a week, we donate them to churches and schools,” said Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFFI) co-chairman Freddie Alquiroz during a press briefing at the Baguio Country Club on Feb. 27.

The flowers that remain fresh are donated while the wilted ones are composted. Mr. Alquiroz said they often hear people complain that it is a waste for the government to use thousands of cut flowers for the festival.

“We tried to use potted plants before but it’s so difficult [to use them to decorate] in floats and it’s not practical,” he said. “So we stick to cut flowers. It’s not a waste because [the flower] was grown for that.”

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan said they encourage their local government units to plant the flowers to bloom in time for the festival. The flowers used for the floats are usually sourced within the region, mostly from La Trinidad, Benguet, while some participating groups grow their own at home. He said 80-90% of the flowers used come from the local government units.

“They are benefitting from it as they do not have to market them just to sell,” the mayor said. “That is why we always tell them to ‘please plant flowers in time for the festival.’”

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Besides the explosion of floral colors, also awaited are the celebrities who grace the festival.

Among the most popular this year were GMA television love team Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza, and ABS-CBN’s stars Bea Alonzo and Enchong Dee, who rode on their respective networks’ floats. M Lhuillier Pawnshop’s float had film and TV actor (and its brand ambassador) Jericho Rosales, while Tropicana invited Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa on board its float.

Four attractive young men walking down the parade route in traditional bahag (loincloth) piqued onlookers’ attention. Photos of University of the Cordilleras students John Rey Tenedero, Kayzer Brooks Gewan, and Renz Lou Lagria, and caregiver Kelvin Aguilan-Vicente went viral on social media where they were called the “Panagbenga hotties.”

Meanwhile, “Carrot Man” Jeyrick Sigmaton, another Igorot who gained fame on the Internet, rode on the Wedding Memories’ float.

NLEx/MTC’s “Beauty of the Wild” float took top spot in the Big Float category, with the Trolls-inspired entry of Sitel, and the Department of Tourism’s “More Fun in the Philippines” float bagging second and third place, respectively.

For the Small Float category, Maybank’s Tiger float took the first prize, with Coke’s Feel Fest in second, and Zenfone’s Owl toon character in third.

Baguio’s sister cities also participated in the street parade, with delegations coming from Quezon province, Isabela, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, and cities from South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

The winners in the Street Dance competition were Apolinario Mabini Elementary School (Elementary School division), Baguio City National High School (High School division), and Pugo Catholic School (Open division).

“Despite of its magnitude, we are not putting a lot in [the event’s] budget,” Mayor Domogan said. “We are happy, but it will be good if we can increase the price.”

The mayor said the city spent just P4 million for this year’s Panagbenga, compared to the usual P60 million spent by local governments in other festivals around the country. It became a grander spectacle thanks to the generous financial help given by sponsors.

He added that they were happy with this year’s turnout, with an estimated crowd of two million people lining the streets for the two-day parade of street dances and floats. They estimated that about 85-90% of the tourists were Filipinos and 10-15% were foreign.

“We were somehow expecting a decrease in number because weeks before the festival, there were rumors that there were rebel attacks happening in the area,” Mr. Alquiroz said. “But there was a lot of improvement not only with the crowd, but in the quality of floats and performances.”

True to his word, people swarmed the busy streets between Session Road and Burnham Park to witness the annual celebration. To assure everyone’s safety, 250 officers from the Baguio City Police and 50 from the regional police were deployed, along with an additional 300 officers who had just finished their training. Also helping with the event’s security were criminology students from Baguio and the Cordilleras, boy and girl scouts, and uniformed men from the Civil Defense Office who volunteered their services.

Mr. Alquiroz said preparations for the February festival started back in September. Panagbenga, which began 22 years ago through the efforts of the BFFFI secretariat, has been a boon for Baguio City’s tourism — most visitors come in the summer and Christmas seasons — so much so that the officials are looking into improving it further in the coming years.

“We want other areas in the region to have complimentary festivals as well so that tourists would find their travel up here all worth it,” Mr. Domogan said, suggesting that there should be a mining festival, a strawberry festival, or pineapple festival, among other suggestions. — Camille Anne M. Arcilla