Friday, March 14, 2008

Panagbenga - keeping it simple, yet meaningful

In ’97 we were there, a small bunch of artists, a couple of benches, a box-full of tapuy and an ice chest-full of sodas, a basket full of tuna and chicken sandwiches, and several hand drums. We positioned ourselves somewhere near the post office steps – next to us were other artists with their hand-painted shirts and prints and paper beads – we don’t remember having to pay tens of thousands of pesos to sit around all day banging our drums and sharing sandwiches and good tapuy with both familiar faces and friendly strangers.

Then, no, we didn’t have to wake up before sunrise to set up our sandwich stand, which was actually just an excuse to have a place where kindred souls can gather and celebrate life in Baguio, there was no hurry nor jostling for prime spots along Session Road: anywhere on the road was a prime spot. And when we found our spot taken over by another group the next day, we only had to move a few meters down from where we were the day before: a small price to pay for enjoying the tapuy a bit too much the day before and waking up late the next morning.

Then, those who participated in Panagbenga’s “Session Road in Bloom” seemed a lot, but still leaving enough space for people to walk up or down the road without having to squeeze themselves in between other people and merchants and merchandise. There was enough space for Session Road to breathe, and people cared enough not to abuse the plants on the island in the middle of the road.

Then, it seemed to be truly in bloom.

Then, we didn’t earn that much money. In fact, we didn’t earn any. That’s ok, we danced and laughed a lot for a few days, and that’s priceless. And after having too much fun and much too little money by the third day, we decided that the rest of the tuna and chicken sandwiches would be the food at our tables at home for the rest of the week. Fry the tuna spread and it’s a mean tortang orilles. But we didn’t stop going to Session Road the rest of the week – there was always some space somewhere where we can lay our mats and play our drums.

And today, so what if one makes millions cramming as many commercial stalls as if there’s no tomorrow along Session Road, when you have as many people hating the experience? Why sacrifice the integrity of what was supposed to be a beautiful and sincere community effort by allowing the pretty costumes to be blighted with corporate logos and slogans just for a little extra money? Who wouldn’t hate hearing commercial jingles during a parade instead of the music that come from the hearts of the people of Baguio?

Back then, I guess the organizers didn’t make as much money from the flower festival, but it was those first few festivals, the ones free from crass commercialism, the ones free from too much politics and misplaced egos, the ones that had the spirit of Baguio painted on every smiling face: those were the ones that made the Baguio Flower Festival live in the hearts of people from all over the country and the rest of the world.

Surrendering and being slaves to crass commercialism: millions of pesos, and one’s left with nothing but an empty experience.

Keeping it simple yet meaningful: priceless.