Scarce Fun in Panagbenga: a rewriting of Baguio and its popular festival


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.

Mga "namumulaklak"  na bata sa Panagbenga(from: http://baguio.sunstar.com.ph/panagbenga/)
Mga “namumulaklak” na bata sa Panagbenga
(from: http://baguio.sunstar.com.ph/panagbenga/)

Panagbenga float

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.

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2 Comments

  1. I. Reading your prose reminds me of the varying rates by which language saturates us. Clearly you have read enough books to know a fair number of words that Reader’s Digest might quiz their subscribers on. Words, however, are like men: you will not understand them after a one night stand. You say words like remit, but if you lived with remit (as opposed to a solitary sexual tryst, in keeping with our analogy), you will know that this boy lives in finance, legalese, and the fine print in contracts. You say words like dulcet, but if you befriended dulcet, you will hear of his revulsion over use in paragraphs.

    The task of a writer (and rhetoric, according to a certain historian) is to use words to impart message with utmost clarity. This is something that you understood as early as Comm I. But what you may have failed (or found difficult) to understand is that clarity neither means the use of small *or* large words. Clarity is knowing that each word functions in a particular way for each particular region for each particular writer for each particular reader for each particular epoch. Just becuase myriad means many does not mean that you must substitute many with myriad. As they say, “when in Rome…”; which is to say, you must first find Rome, know its people, walk its ways. Remember, nothing speaks noob (o davah, i have 9gag on google reader (!) too) as clearly as a misplaced vocabulary. There are no highfaluting words, only affected speech. Corollarily, polysyllabic writing is not necessarily a victim of affectations.

    On the other hand, we must admit that this is something remedied only by continued writing and reading, which is why we’ll let this pass (note: “let this pass” instead of “remit”).

    II. It is equally interesting to note the disjunct between the number of theorists you conjure in your defense, and the degree of utilization when you actually implement your men’s ideas. You say that a certain Williams understands festivities as appeals to normacy and yet fail to see that the normalcy being appealed to by Panagbenga is not the normalcy of flowers (which actually grow in La Trinidad) but the normalcy of the capitalist structure leading to western homogeneity’s explosion (read: prevalence [just to be safe]) all the way to the Philippines, resulting in attempts to create identity by exagerrating one trait or the other through festivals (in this case, Baguio as the flower capital). In other words, if there is normalcy appealed to through Panagbenga, it is the normalcy of the contradiction between (a) the successes of capitalist imposition of western standards and (b) the orient/satellite/oppressed’s attempts to carve identity amidst its capitulation.

    The same critique applies to your use of de Certeau’s “legends.” You say, if not imply, that we must demistify the legends, but is the legend really only a facade covering up Baguio’s trash and population problems, or the traffic during panagbenga? The answer is so clearly no that I trust you need no further explanation.

    Finally: The point behind localized critiques is to show the relation between the small and big picture. If you don’t link Panagbenga with the larger issues at hand (not just at hand, but those which you are very well acquainted with), you don’t just fail at a well explicated exposition, but downright fail at criticism – by being exactly what a critic is not supposed to be: uncritical. Being fairly well read, you should know this: a biography is a social review, a novel is never just about the characters but is always a commentary on society. If you are tired, as a lot of people our age and social bracket are, of the admittedly repetitive slogans for social justice founded on socialist frameworks, the solution is not to divorce the parituclar from the general, but to find another angle, another framework. (But why do this when we have yet to exhaust Marx? Davah. Charot)

    (Note:I don’t know who Williams is, which is why I have every right to interpret him according to the limited definition that you provided [else why define him at all]. Which is to say, you musn’t rebut with a clarification from Williams, because to do so is to admit to a mistaken definition of him in the first place)

    III. In other words, keep writing! hehe. Ayan ha, I criticize you even though you’ve never returned the favor. hehe.

    1. Oy Santi!! Got back at this thing I wrote dahil may kelangan uling isulat tungkol sa Panagbenga! Kaya naman napa-get back din sa mahaba (at helpful!) mong komento! Mej kadiri, 2013 ko lang pala ‘to nasulat; I was wishing sana mga tipong at least 2012, para mas may “excuse” ng youthful amateurishness (mukha lang tong redundancy). Na-intimidate ata akong replyan tong lengthy comment and critique mo dati (which I truly remember I also appreciated back then) at may pag-accede rin naman sa ilang punto, lalo sa una at mas formal na banat. Ah, myriad thanks a! Yang employment kay de Certeau at Williams, mej childish din! Parang someone na first time makahawak ng DSLR or something, shoot agad nang shoot nang di pa na-chechene yung intricacies ng program. Kung papayagan, ipo-post ko rin dito yung 2016 Panagbenga piece, baka gusto na lang mag-disappear sa sanlibutan nitong 2013 piece na ito.

      Yung more adventure mo, sana may new entry! Mga sinusundan kong blogger, mga tipong seldom magpost e. Cheeriyoss!

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