BAGUIO AND BENGUET MOUNTAINS. A landscaper places flowers and plants at the man-made small mountain at the Baguio City Hall Park that is replete with a waterfall and a well-decorated cave that will be one of the eight entries to the landscaping competition of the Baguio Flower Festival or the Panagbenga which will be launched on February 1. Some 13 landscapers, eight of them at the City Hall Park, four at the Lake Drive of Burnham and one at the Session Road Circle that once housed the stone sculpture of the eight commissioners of the second Philippine Commission will vie for the grand prize. (PNA photo by Pigeon Lobien)

BAGUIO CITY – A few months after its inauguration on May 31 last year, the Baguio City Hall Park lost its luster with its flowers and plants destroyed due to typhoons and strong rains that annually make the city one of the world’s wettest places.

But with the blossoming of flowers starting February 1, the opening of the Baguio Flower Festival or “Panagbenga”, the 655-square meter park is expected to bloom anew, thanks to eight landscapers competing in this year’s landscaping competition.

The park’s look will be better with stakes that are high – a handsome cash prize and one’s reputation as a landscaper vastly improved as a winner of the event, a major one in the Panagbenga.

“It was the mayor [Benjamin Magalong] who asked that the park be beautified,” said Jonalyn Viloria, who has competed for more than 10 years now in one of the festivals' most anticipated events in its 36-day calendar.

The Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet native will start beautifying her spot with ornamental plants like petunia, dianthus, salvia, and marigold heeding the mayor’s call to “fix” the park devastated by rains and wind during the rainy season.

“The plants were not meant for the strong rains. Patay lahat (All dead),” said artist Gilbert Gano Alberto, who installed stone sculptures at the park which was completed four months after its supposed completion date.

The eight-foot butterfly ready to launch in the middle of the park has lost all its plants, leaving only the mesh it was made off, showing that the place really needs sprucing up.

Viloria will be joined by seven other landscapers, who desire winning the most, and their coming will help level up the park’s vista that demonstrates Baguio’s Creative City status given by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Two new structures have been recently erected at the park that mark out Baguio as a creative city and the birthplace of the Panagbenga, signified by the sunflower.

The structures are now at the entrance of the park from Insular Life to accompany the 17 artworks of Alberto.

Alberto is a noted Baguio boy grown of Ifugao roots artist who has won two major prizes internationally, the “Prix du Public -Bois” and the “Prix des Artistes”.

“The mayor asked for it, so it can be beautified and people will have something to see,” Viloria said.

Four landscapers remain at the Burnham Park, while one will have the Session Road Circle beautified after the 50-foot Christmas tree that was erected for the Enchanting Christmas was taken down.

The eight “sentinels”, stone sculptures of Alberto were also removed, and moved to the former Diplomat Hotel, which is now home of the creatives.

“I just hope that my work will be seen as worthy by the judges. It actually depends on them,” added Viloria, who has won several times including runner-up finishes.

Below the city hall stage is a mini-mountain with a waterfall and exotic plants and flowers adorning it.

“This is the concept.” Saturnina Hilario, who comes from the mining town of Itogon said.

The “mountain” also has a cave that is adorned with plants and flowers, emulating the tunnels or “usok” that abound in her hometown, which serves as a view at the Mines View Park.

“I just do hope that our caves will be turned into parks now that mining is virtually gone,” she said.

On her sixth year, and a top winner in 2018, Hilario’s concept could reach “full bloom” this time that showcases Baguio and Benguet’s terrain and view.

“There is space here, it’s wide unlike in the past year when we have to make do with the sidewalk of the (Burnham) Lake Drive,” she told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in the vernacular.

“Now I can totally express what I envision and make it a reality,” she added as she supervises six of her workers sprucing up her “masterpiece”.

Most of the landscapers, however, have transformed the front of the Baguio Convention Center into a virtual flower park, said Baguio Country Club spokesperson Andrew Pinero, who assists Panagbenga organizing committee chairman Anthony de Leon.

“The bulk is at the convention center,” said Pinero.

He said there are 15 competitors entered into three categories – vertical, horizontal and carpet of flowers. The number of entries could be more.

“One competitor may have three entries – one vertical, one horizontal and one carpet of flowers. There is one landscaper who joined in only one category,” he said.

Viloria and Hilario will complete their works before the February 1 opening, starting off with the opening parade starting at the Panagbenga Park on Upper Session Road that straddles the Loakan Road and South Drive.

Prayers will be offered by Catholic priest Emmanuel Pannayo, Islamic prayer by Uzladh Rohala Muripaga and an “uggayam” or native prayer, by councilor Vladimir Cayabas.

Then it will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the Baguio Blooms Exposition and Exhibition at the newly renovated Baguio Convention Center, some 400 meters away.

It will be followed by the opening parade that will end at the Baguio athletic bowl.

Former mayor Mauricio Domogan, chairman for life of the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, will deliver the opening remarks with Magalong giving the inspirational message.

It will be followed by the drum and lyre competition for elementary students from where the qualifiers for the finals will be known and final judging to be made during the street dancing competition on February 29.

Baguio Rep. Mark Go will give the closing remarks for the opening rites of the Panagbenga which celebrates its silver anniversary.

Starting in 1996, the Panagbenga then was a week-long festival aimed to help Baguio regain its stature as one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

A brainchild of the late and then Bases Conversion Development Authority director Damaso Bangaoet Jr., the festival was patterned after the Pasadena, California Rose Parade.

Now, it is one of the biggest and most anticipated annual festivities in the country. (PNA)