Panagbenga formally opens on Feb. 1 of each year.

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The last weekend of the month is slated for the institutional grand parades followed by the closure of the city’s main thoroughfare for the “Session in Bloom” when the Session Road is converted into a stretch of selling and activity area until the following Sunday for the closing program and awarding of winners in the different competitions.

“We never thought it will come to this magnitude where hundreds of thousands of people come to Baguio for the whole duration, with most of them arriving for the grand parades,” Domogan said.

He admitted, however, that the number of visitors who joined the street dancing on Saturday did not breach the pre-pandemic level.

“Our having the festival this year shows our resiliency in any calamity. That despite the challenges, we stand up to show that we will be okay,” Domogan said.

Baguio City had 1.7 million tourist arrivals from January to October 2022, surpassing the 2019 record of 1.2 million visitors.

The festival partially resumed last year sans crowd-drawing activities like the flower-themed floats due to health protocols, luring 45,000 visitors on its final weekend.

Inspiring tradition, culture

Meanwhile, the street dancing competition, one of the festival highlights, once again showed the rich culture, diverse beliefs and colorful traditions of the Cordillerans.

Among the traditions presented was the cañao, a socio-religious ritual where chickens, pigs and/or carabaos are butchered and feasted on as a thanksgiving to their god, Kabunian.

Ikoshin Miguel, whose group performed a dance number depicting the cañao, explained its importance.

“The legend of cañao, o yung pinakaunang rason kung bakit nagkaroon ang Cordillera ng mga cañao na ginagawa bilang tradisyon kahit man may nangyaring masama o may magandang nangyari, positive or negative. Ito kasi is parang ‘yun ‘yung way naming para mag-pray kay Kabunian (This is the story of how cañao started in the Cordillera as part of its tradition, whether its good or bad. This is our way of praying to Kabunian),” she said.

The last part of their performance, Miguel said, showed the weaving tradition of the six provinces of Cordillera.

She added that in performing for the Panagbenga, they want to show other young people from the province that the art of dancing may also be used as an instrument in showing the richness of their culture.

Two other participants, Lovely May Pesiglagan and Henessy Mang-er from Sagada, Mountain Province, expressed pride in their performance, depicting their belief in mythical creatures, which, they said, is a first for the Panagbenga Festival.

“Our performance is about mythical creatures kung saan sa ilog, tradisyon kasi sa amin na magbato muna ng bato sa water before mag-fetch or mag swimming, we’re going to wait 10 minutes para umalis yung mga anito na tinatawag (where it has been our tradition to throw a stone into the river water before we fetch or swim, then wait for about 10 minutes for the unseen creatures to go away),” Pesiglagan said.

Mang-Er said the first concept they thought of was also Kabunian, but they changed their mind since it is a common theme in Panagbenga performances.

Visitors who went to Baguio to witness the Panagbenga events were left in awe of the street dancing parade performers.

Rolan Afilo, who is vacationing from Dubai, said his family purposely went to this city to experience the Panagbenga.

"Very colorful at tsaka yung effort nila amazing. Hindi matatawaran, so we just said that it's like we're in Brazil. Ang preparation spectacular and I can say na pinaghandaan ng mga tao dito (their effort is amazing. I say that residents have really prepared for this event)," he said.

The dance groups, mainly composed of young people, said performing their cultural traditions through dances is their way of showing that they love their province and their roots.

EJ Justin Balao and Lea Dodon expressed pride in being Cordillerans.

“Napakasaya namin kasi dati nagka-pandemic, wala ‘yung mga ganitong competition na nasasalihan naming to express our talent. Tsaka mahal namin ang kultura namin (We are so happy because when the pandemic hit the country, the events and competitions stopped so we do not have a venue to show our talents. And also, we love our culture),” Balao said.

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos who also attended the Panagbenga, filed a measure that would recognize the province of Benguet as the strawberry capital of the country.

In her Senate Bill No 1899, or An Act Declaring the Province of Benguet as the Strawberry Capital of the Philippines, Marcos said Benguet produces tons of strawberries annually, making it the largest grower in the country.

Aside from Benguet, the town of Don Victoriano in Misamis Occidental and Tagaytay City in Cavite also produce strawberries.

La Trinidad town alone has 7,000 strawberry farms.

Marcos said Benguet also hosts the Strawberry Festival every year to acknowledge the success of strawberry farming and one of the primary economic drivers in the province.

The measure, she added, would inspire the farmers further.

Source: Philippines News Agency