Arts and Culture

As pandemic rains on their parade, Panagbenga performers yearn to hit the streets again

Jap Tobias - Philstar.com
As pandemic rains on their parade, Panagbenga performers yearn to hit the streets again
True to the spirit of Panagbenga, residents and artists await the festival to find its bloom again amid the gloomy pandemic times. 
Philstar.com/Jap Tobias

MANILA, Philippines — For more than two decades, Baguio City has kept thousands of tourists mesmerized with spectacular showcases of magnificent flower floats and colorful performances in its annual Panagbenga Festival every February. 

Such was not the case the past two years. The pandemic thwarted the festival's bloom with the cancellation of crowd-drawing events like the street dance competition, grand float parade and marching band performances, leaving many artists and performers downhearted for missing showcasing their art along a jam-packed Session Road. 

In an interview with Philstar.com, Panagbenga performers shared what they missed for three years and what they look forward to.

Marching through a pandemic

Jacqueline Millado during SLU Marching Band's performance at the 2019 Panagbenga Grand Float Parade
 Jasmine Jacer
"We were already at the end and wer'e just already polishing our Beyonce-inspired performance that we're excited to show to the audiences. The pandemic kept moving the date of our performance until it never pushed through," recalled Jacqueline Millado, a trumpeter and color guard of St. Louis University (SLU) Marching Band. 

"When lockdown started, we didn't know it would be this long. So, when we learned our performance got canceled, some of us were thinking that maybe we could still perform our Beyonce piece next year," she added. 

Three years since, the Beyonce performance is yet to happen, and Millado is frustrated at the thought that she’ll not be there to perform when the time comes as she's already graduating this semester after her nine years in the band. 


The SLU Marching Band in their first face-to-face rehearsal after two years of being apart.
SLU Marching Band


Despite the pandemic, SLU band had to keep marching on — even if just through virtual rehearsals and shows. Millado, from just a musician, has now also been in charge of editing videos for their online performances as one of the senior band members. 

While online performances may do, for now, Millado believes nothing beats the feels of being on the streets — from waking up at 3 a.m to wear makeup and her costume, to nervously lining up at the Panagbenga park and waiting for their turn to perform. 

"One of the things we like about Panagbenga was that we felt we're seen as artists. We're there to perform to people; we spend months training, coming up with concepts to be on stage via the streets. But now that it's online, sometimes you get the feeling that not everyone sees it," she shared.

Keeping a passion afloat

Ruben Zaparita, owner of Zaparita Gardens, is one of Baguio’s go-to float designers for Panagbenga Festival
 Ruben Zaparita


“Pang three years na ngayon, dapat sa katapusan ng buwan ay meron na dapat parada at may trabaho. By now, natutulog na lang siguro kami sa tabi ng float, may tent at may bonfire,” shared Ruben Zaparita, a landscape artist and son of one of the founders of Panagbenga. 

Since the festival's first edition, he has been designing some of the most elaborate floats — until the pandemic in 2020 halted his team of 40 people from finishing their almost-completed showpiece.

According to him, creating floats for Panagbenga, which entails almost four months of hard work, has been his passion — one that he's been missing for three years already and really can't wait to do again. 


Ruben Zaparita's showpiece for Panagbenga Festival last 2019.
Jasmine Jacer


“Hinahana-hanap ko na magdedesign. Tapos 'pag nakikita mo nang tapos na 'yung design mo at pinaparade mo sa maraming tao, including tourists from all around the world. Naku, nakakamiss 'yun, kasi syempre proud ka. Tapos lalo na kung mananalo pa 'yung creation, napakaganda at nakakamiss talaga,” Zaparita noted. 

He even shared that he already has a concept for his next showcase: a flower float that retells what happened in the pandemic and how hope continues to bloom. 

When will tourists get to see this pandemic-inspired creation? No one knows yet, but Zaparita can only hope: "Sana next year, game na."

A reminder of hope

Like Millado, JC Vince Somebang has been performing in the streets of Baguio since 2014 as a high school street dancer. 

"Before the pandemic, our preparation for Panagbenga was intense," he shared. "There were times that we practiced all day long and were excused from classes several weeks because we don't just dance, we also make our props, our costumes, and of course conceptualize our choreography."


 JC Vince Somebang (right) in his street dance costume for their performance last 2019.
Photo courtesy of JC Vince Somebang


While the training sounds exhausting, this kind of Panagbenga hustle that begins as early as September developed Somebang's love for performing, which he continues to pursue in college as the now vice president of the SLU Center for Culture and the Arts Dance Troop.

"Panagbenga is very sentimental here in Baguio because it's a symbol of hope when we had regained our wonder after the Baguio earthquake. As an artist, I'm holding the festival as something precious that I can showcase to other people," Somebang said.  

“As performers, dinadala namin ang wonder ng festival na ito hindi lang sa streets ng Baguio kundi sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa and even other countries through bigger opportunities like Aliwan Fiesta na naoopen nu'ng festival sa amin,” he added.

According to Somebang, he still sees the props they made and were supposed to use last 2020 every time he visits SLU, bringing back all the bittersweet memories of the preparations they did for that year. 

“It’s good na they’re preserving those props, naka assemble siya and organize, and we’re really waiting na bumalik at magkaroon na ulit ang Panagbenga festival. We will be very happy to perform again and join the competition," he enthused. 

Waiting for Panagbenga to bloom again

Young Panagbenga performers in traditional Cordilleran attire.
Jasmine Jacer


Panagbenga draws its name from a Kankanaey term meaning "season of blooming" — an inspiration for the people of Baguio to rise from the devastation brought by the 1990 earthquake. True to the spirit of Panagbenga, residents and artists await the festival to find its bloom again amid the gloomy pandemic times. 

Graduating trumpeter Jacquelline Millado hopes that, unlike her, her younger siblings would get to complete four Panagbenga performances in their time.

"I wish that there’d be a bigger audience. I'd like to come back at a Session Road filled with a lot of people, where you could see a lot of performers. And hopefully, our band number would grow back up again," she said. 

Meanwhile, streetdancer Somebang wants the next Panagbenga to be free from fear. “I’m just hoping that there are no more fears na mag-arise sa mga performers at walang members na hindi papayagan ng magulang dahil sa takot sa pandemic.”  

“Kung gaano kaganda ang pinapakita ng Baguio sa Panagbenga through the years, maging mas maganda pa siya ngayon, mas colorful at sana mas madaming tourists,” he added.  

On the other hand, landscape artist Zaparita understands why the city canceled the grand float parade again this year, and for him, it's a sacrifice they’re willing to make to help protect the city from another outbreak.

“Hayaan niyo, tiyaga lang. Wala muna ngayon pero sigurado dadating din ang panahon na babalik 'yan. Kasi hinihintay na rin talaga ng mga tao,” he assured fellow artists.

“Namimiss na namin 'yung ang dami talagang tao sa Panagbenga. 'Yung masaya ang Baguio at masaya ang mga tao. 'Yun talaga ang gusto namin maibalik — at alam naman naming maibabalik 'yun,” he concluded.

The 2022 special edition of Panagbenga Festival will be held from March 6 to 27, featuring scaled-down activities such as painting and landscaping exhibitions, film festival and Session Road in bloom. 

RELATED: Taste of ‘Ang Probinsyano’: Philippines’ first Stevia farm reimagines Bulacan heritage cuisine 


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