By LYN V. RAMO
Being an election year, the 2007 Panagbenga, still under the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFI), was heavily despised for allowing political parties and personalities in the float parade. Booing became the public response to politicians shaking hands with the dismayed crowd. Allegedly, it turned out it was Congressman Mauricio Domogan who invited some of the candidates to the parade.
As in the past celebrations, 2007 Panagbenga drew an unusually large crowd, that people started to line up Session Road as early as 5:00 A.M., just to get a better view of the street-dancing, and the float-marching bands parade, that would start 8:00 A.M.
The celebrations in 2007 was to be Atty. Damaso Bangaoet’s curtain call. He managed most Panagbenga stagings since 1996, and he wanted this to be the best flower festival that Baguio City had to offer both tourists and local residents.
Incidentally, the 2007 flower fest Session Road in Bloom (SRIB) was the first under Baguio Tourism Council Chair Anthony de Leon, who made pronouncements there would be no tusok-tusok (skewered) and ihaw-ihaw (grilled) in Session Road. He envisioned a classy display of gourmet and fine dining for SRIB. As it turned out, though, smoke was still visible then. For this, de Leon drew snide comments even from the media covering the events.
While visitors enjoyed the lavish display of flowers and fireworks, the Baguio public frown at the large number of people coming up on Panagbenga days. They have to hoard water, liquefied petroleum gas, and other perishables; contend with higher prices of commodities; and snail their way through heavy traffic.
Vendors, on the other hand, have a lot of people to sell their wares to, and earn more than what they get in any single occasion throughout the year, despite restrictions imposed on them by the local government.
Behind the glitter and glamor the Panagbenga has obtained criticisms from the more culturally keen groups in the Cordillera.
Members of the Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK) think it is a bastardization of the Cordillera culture to see boys and girls clad in the native costumes playing and dancing to the tune of Boom tarat-tarat or Spaghetti, popular tunes from noontime variety shows. DKK is a group of indigenous artists studying and portraying indigenous peoples’ culture through theater, songs and dances.
“These children may have come from tribal communities in the Cordillera and the Panagbenga may be inflicting confusion on their cultural consciousness,” Marlon Gomarcho, a cultural activist and DKK secretary-general, said. Gomarcho hails from Natonin, Mountain Province.
This year, the celebrations include 12 major events interwoven with almost 100 minor events stretched through the whole month of February. Since 2007, the festival has started “reverting to its original private-led, community-initiated and government-supported character.”
Beverly Longid, CPA chairperson sees the Panagbenga as a profit-driven tourism event capitalizing on the culture of the Cordillera indigenous peoples.
CPA criticizes the bastardization and commercialization of culture displayed in the Panagbenga in its bid to increase its marketability – attract and entertain more tourists. Longid said this is staged yearly at the expense of exploiting Cordillera indigenous culture so rooted in the indigenous peoples’ history of bravery and rich cultural heritage. She said, “rituals have their own context in the ili. To replicate this for consumers satisfaction robs the Cordillera people of their own cultural symbols and sacred practices.”
“Culture should foster understanding, but this one is not realistic,” Longid said. She added the movements, costumes, and tunes were changed for what is attractive to tourists. Culture is dynamic and is not imposed, she said.
Longid left questions for Panagbenga organizers, thus: Since Panagbenga is a festival, it must be a celebration for life, and the bounty, but here, are the people satisfied? Do they enjoy economic stability?
Leaked audit findings
Despite the absence of an official copy of the audit findings, the unofficial report reached the media that in December a community weekly (not Nordis) carried a report on the audit. The COA team expectedly reacted to the report, saying the findings are not yet final, thus the publication of such was premature.
The audit observation memorandum by COA was reportedly submitted on October 8, last year for the comments of Mayor Reinaldo A. Bautista, then Mayor Bernardo Vergara, City Accountant Antonio L. Tabin, City Budget Officer Leticia O. Clemente, City Treasurer Thelma B. Manaois, City Treasurer’s Office’s Rose de Vera and City Accountant’s Office’s Ronald Felix Bala. De Vera reportedly cashiered for the BFFI, while Bala did the bookkeeping.
Clemente said, early in November last year, they have submitted their answer, which explained blow by blow the allegations of the audit memo early in November last year. She said the audit report was lopsided.
COA’s Atty. Rosemary L. Saldo, team leader of the audit team, clarified that the audit memo had to be furnished the city officials representing the auditee, and all persons concerned for their comments and justifications, if any.
“Within a prescribed period, the auditee’s comments are evaluated and the audit team gives its rejoinder,” Saldo clarified, in her letter she furnished the city mayor in December. She added the findings would only be final when the report is released by COA.
Clemente, on the other hand, questioned the absence of an exit conference after an audit team has terminated its audit. “This will allow both sides to be informed of the findings and clarify issues or present controverting evidence, if needed,” she clarified.
Councilor Fred Bagbagen’s proposal asking COA an official copy of the audit report may not be the end in itself as far as Panagbenga government financing is concerned. As other councilors would put it, the move may open yet another can of worms.
“Leaving allegations that it is graft-laden and rilled with corruption hanging in the air, with no sight of action to rectify or correct them will only lead pro-people groups and city officials to dig deeper into the flower festival,” TTU-CPA’s Chairperson Geraldine Cacho iterated. She added, “Only then will the city of Baguio truly reach its blossoming. Only then can the people truly celebrate the flowers.” #