Panagbenga 1

Photograph courtesy of Robert L. Joaquin

Panagbenga: A City in Bloom

Panagbenga means the season of blossoming, and the city of Baguio in the Philippines celebrates this with parades showcasing flora and native culture.

Every year, from February to early March, my hometown celebrates the local Panagbenga festival. Panagbenga, pronounced pa-nag-buh-nga, means season of blossoming. City-wide festivals are held to celebrate the season by showcasing flora and native culture.
The festival kicks off with a street parade that brings together local schools and celebrities to dance, sing and perform a variety of street performances. I personally watched them live on television because the crowds would form hours before the parade even began. The routes are announced on television and over radio, and people camp out on the streets, in the parks and fight their way onto well-situated restaurant balconies to catch the best views of the parades.
Panagbenga 2
Photograph courtesy of Robert L. Joaquin
A quick YouTube search for Panagbenga Parades yields hourlong videos showcasing the whole event as it travels from one part of the city to the other, ending at Burnham Park. But the videos hardly do the parade any justice. Back home, the sound of gongs, flutes, drums and the occasional echo from the blaring sound system let everyone know when each parade begins, regardless of their distance from the heart of the city.
Panagbenga 3
Photograph courtesy of Robert L. Joaquin
Although there were a few repetitive routines that I preferred to skip, there was one thing I always hoped to catch in action — the float parade.
The float parades were interesting to me since these were made out of flowers. Companies, businesses and other participating organizations would create large floats covered in flowers of wide variety, shapes and sizes. These floats went all around the city, many times featuring celebrities or performers, as they displayed the best flowers of the season. Maybe the reason why these float parades were not boring to me was because each year they were different.
Panagbenga 4
Photograph courtesy of Robert L. Joaquin
However, the parades only consume about two to three days of the month-long festival, so there’s more to the festival than just that.
One of my favorite events is the Session in Bloom. This is a week-long closure of the main road, Session, during which hundreds of street vendors gather from all over the country.
Session in Bloom essentially turns the entire hillside road into a market which openly sells everything from food, including shawarmas, deep-fried empanadas and crepes to clothes, furniture, lamps, plants and more. There are more local items sold too, such as bamboo-carved furniture, coconut shell lamps and local food delicacies.
Occasionally, there are performances held on top of the hill, with the songs broadcasted all throughout Session Road. Other times, locals perform their own songs amid the noisy, bustling crowds of Baguio city.
This year marks the the first time in ten years that I’ve missed Panagbenga and I find myself humming the once-annoying theme song throughout the day. I hope to hear it in person again, though that may have to wait four years.
Dominique Joaquin is Deputy Features. Email her at
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