Even with the passing of the weekend highlighting the Panagbenga festival, the start of Session in Bloom does not remit the raping of Baguio City in different ways.
It was a little hapless for my friends and I who were compelled by the tasks awaiting us outside to leave our homes last weekend because we were not able to completely escape the festivities we would know no better than to loathe and criticize. The dulcet of Panagbenga does not yet appear to be fading and year after year, it continues to attract nearly a million of tourists and spectators who most likely expect to experience the “Baguio” advertised since they were children by various media (the “It’s more fun…” tourism campaign being one of the most recent). I surmise that most of them, especially the tourists are disgruntled afterwards; whatever satisfaction they might have gleaned from attending the festivities is tremendously offset less by fatigue and the expenses than the fact that the Baguio they came to see (cool, clean, green, poetic, convenient) is far from the Baguio they actually expended money to be in. The longer I stay in Baguio and the more Panagbengas that pass by the calendars, it appears that Baguio becomes less and less of the paradise that it is being broadcasted in the dominant media. However, its appeal lingers. And the quietly irksome experience my friends and I had to grapple with over the weekend when we were going home – the flood of people, the hills of trash everywhere, and the resulting wheezing of the atmosphere with the volume of vehicles – is very telling: people still go and rave about the Panagbenga.
The power of festivities
Following Raymond Williams, one of the most-read Cultural critics of the 20th century, festivities are powerful rituals ingrained in one’s culture and as such, ingraining particular ways of looking at the world. With their repetition, these festivities have an appeal to normalcy which the members of the community and also the other participants can mindlessly experience as they occur again and again. From what I know, the Panagbenga tradition was supposed to be inspired by the idea of celebrating the springing of flowers in the region. This is the logic behind the weekend highlight events: the float parade and the street dance. As I have seen from the pictures (in my seven-year stay here, I have never attended any Panagbenga ceremony live, and I am very proud and gleeful to admit and do just that), these events are suffused with flowers, natural or otherwise, in line with the cause (or: cost) of celebration. However, contradictions need to be pointed out in order to elucidate the key, underlying politics of Panagbenga.
For one, the floral industry, as far as geography is concerned, is more vigorous in La Trinidad and other parts of Benguet than in Baguio. In my entire stay here, I have associated Baguio with deceptively fancy restaurants and establishments and the “center of ‘commerce’ in the North” tag more than anything else, certainly more than a blooming floral industry. Apparently too, its old prestige as the pristine “Summer Capital” mode has been slowly blotted by the increasing population (yes, including me), increasing pollution (noise, waste and air) and the decreasing verdure (the SM case being the recent straw that seemed to finally slap those who can claim to love the city). Hence, I assert that the Panagbenga festival, aside from being spurred by its cultural function, is also motivated by its commercial function. It is at this point that tourism becomes a more glaring point. However, at the expense of added coffers for the local government are multiple truckloads of garbage and the less obvious contributions to the deterioration of the environment – something that Baguio, as the OLD Summer Capital, used to enshrine and was supposed to nurture.
The crumbling of the glossy Baguio and de Certeau’s wise advice
Part of the discourse of tourism concerning Panagbenga is the entire city where the festivities are done and which undeniably enjoys a likewise strong potential for tourism – Baguio. The Summer capital tag, the pine trees, the cool weather, the “booming” “industries,” the educational centers – all of these contribute to the popularity of Baguio as a destination both for tourists and eventual migrants. This positive tourism baggage which Baguio carries is certainly a plus factor in selling Panagbenga to highlanders and lowlanders alike. After the holiday season, most of the peoples’ attention and buzz shift to the forthcoming Panagbenga. This is egged and further reinforced by the dominant media’s share in building the hype for the festivities. From the television to the pamphlets on the streets being distributed to the tourists, the idea is to design Baguio and its Panagbenga festival as a delectable experience that one should not miss. These images of Baguio and Panagbenga being circulated leading to the date of the festivities are part of what Michel de Certeau calls “legends” that we utilize in navigating a city. Mostly, these legends glamorize the city and they do this for various reasons (for commerce, for culturally fixing a well-defined image of the city), but primarily for one thing: to hide something else. In his popular essay, “Walking in the City,” de Certeau hails the process of walking as something that we can utilize in order to annul the “legends” circulated about the city we are in. As he puts it, “Travel is a substitute for the legends that used to open up space to something different.”
Utilizing this framework, I am highly confident that the ambulants in last weekend’s highlights, and of the continuing Session in Bloom of the Panagbenga did not fail to notice the swarming garbage around them, and around the reputed “clean and green” city up North (unless they have selective sight), and the morning-to-afternoon heat which might have not squared with their expectations of the weather when they came here. These sun-soaked experiences should be more than sufficient to erase the images promulgated in the “legends” and images of Baguio and Panagbenga. To compound on the propositions of de Certeau, I believe that the living ground where we and the Panagbenga proceedings are, is self-evident in calling our attention and encourage us to defamiliarize the normative projections of Baguio City and its much-touted celebrations every February. Because ultimately, what should define the city and everything that transpires inside it should not be the task of pamphlets and other images to determine; that task is ours, the people breathing in late afternoon smog and parched by the late morning heat, forging survival in a Baguio City departing from the self-motivated idealizations by the dominant media.