I rushed through Baguio City’s chilly morning like a camera-toting mad hornet. It was the first day of Panagbenga Festival and I wanted to be right in the thick of the action before it turns into a mad pandemonium of ecstatic people, booming music and shower of flowers.
Juggernauting my way through Session Road, I sought the performers’ starting ground to at least get a few good headshots before all hell breaks loose. I was busily dodging people when a girl suddenly snatched me from the crowd; it was H of The Yellow Adventures! We have just travelled around North Luzon a month ago and here we were again!
My plan to get decent portraits from the festival’s staging area vanished as we proceeded to bunk down at the press area on one of the street islands. We didn’t have photographer passes but we tried to act like we did. She said that the three cameras slung all over me might be pass enough, we just might be able to bluff our way through.
Poker-faced, dressed in impressive starched-straight uniforms, bearing all sorts of flags and insignias, royal-looking officers started marching down Session Road. Drums soon followed, echoing and rumbling through the historic street, the Panagbenga Festival Street Dancing has officially commenced.
Unlike some of the most famous festivals in the Philippines, it is surprising to note that Panagbenga Festival only had its roots planted fairly recently. Now considered as one of the country’s major festivals, its history dates only as far back as the mid-90’s when it was established as a reaction and means for the people of Baguio City to rise up to the devastating quake that shook the country.
And it wasn’t a year later that the festival got its current moniker. It was simply called the Baguio Flower Festival before Ike Picpican, a Benguet university museum archivist and curator, suggested to have it named as Panagbenga. A Kankanaey term which connotes "a season of blooming ".
The festival is celebrated every February on a month-long scale. Besides the more famous street-dancing and float parade, there are also other activities that both tourists and locals can partake. There is the trade fair and bazaar at Burnham Park and the Session Road in Bloom activities that closes off the busy street to vehicular traffic, to name a few.
My reverie was snapped by the sun breaking through the American-styled buildings lining the sidewalks of Session Road. A group of dancers dressed in Igorot garbs were strutting down their stuff. Flaming red bahags with white and black woven highlights, wooden bangles and necklaces, baskets filled with golden grains and feathered headgears flashed through to the crowd’s approving cheers.
Bugle boys in white-stocked suits, thundering through with their drums and horns soon followed, further enlivening the now electrified crowd. We were now booted out of the media area, our magazine credentials apparently not enough. We were of course, cool enough to follow the Marshalls, fair’s fair.
The Panagbenga Festival was now in full bloom as performers steadily streamed down Session Road in full regalia. Everything was swinging; frantic dancing from the performers, endlessly cheering from the crowd, thunderous thumping from the bands.
Slumped on the sidewalk along with a crowd more packed than a can of sardines, juggling between three cameras, the sun beating down hard on the concrete, my legs in pins and needles, music pumping everywhere, performers dancing like there was no tomorrow; I was experiencing Baguio City’s mad bedlam of a flower festival and I was totally buzzed! I’m right in the middle of one of Luzon’s biggest fiesta, the Panagbenga Festival!
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