Sunday, May 25, 2008

Make a u-turn or straight ahead

A sign next to the Magsaysay flyover says, “To Baguio: Make a U-turn, Go To Trancoville Junction, Make Another U-turn, Proceed To Flyover Ramp.”

There are signs everywhere. Up on the sidewalks, on doors, motor vehicles: on windshields or bumpers, on paper or tarpaulin, on billboards: in neon, in color, or in black and white.

You’ve got nationwidest coverage? Sure. You‘ve got it all for me? Ok.Katas ng Saudi? Noted. Will I be there? I’m done with school, but thanks for the invitation. Kailangan pa bang i-memorize ‘yan? You’re right, no need to, and I’d have forgotten it had you not kept on reminding me all day that there’s no need to commit the crap you heap on my helpless ears all day to memory.

Sure, the stuffy central business district; with its roads filled with smoke-belching motor vehicles; its sidewalks crammed with people spitting, pissing, throwing up, loitering, littering and not minding whose toes they step on or shoulders they bump into; its once picturesque skyline now obliterated by giant commercial billboards screaming into our faces to buy this, switch to that, eat here, get drunk there, may be signs of a developed city. But from a different angle, these may be signs of a city painted all over with greed and shamelessness – a portrait of an abused city.

Perhaps the ever growing bank account of the city is a sign of progress. But what kind of future does the city face with it and is it worth it? The signs that say “Don’t Be A Scofflaw,” put up by a corporation with a legally questionable contract with the city government that was found to be illegally occupying public property and usurping the powers of several government entities, can still be seen all over the city. There are still signs proclaiming the city to be the cleanest and greenest in the country, next to piles of uncollected garbage. There are no parking signs next to parked cars, no loading and unloading signs next to jeepneys picking up and dropping off passengers.

What’s a row of bars infront of an elementary school a sign of? What’s a row of sleazy establishments near the city hall a sign of? What’s a police car passing through a red light a sign of? What’s the sight of elderly locals with baskets of vegetables and fruits being chased by the government in our streets where legitimate shops selling illegal merchandise thrive a sign of? What’s the plan to provide elected officials with brand new cars while the same elected officials often cite the lack of money as the reason behind the failure of the city government to efficiently deliver public service a sign of?

I’ve said it before, walking down Session Road, one only has to stop and look at the signs to know where the city has been, where it is, and where it’s going.

The sign may say, “To Baguio: Make a U-turn, Go To Trancoville Junction, Make Another U-turn, Proceed To Flyover Ramp,” or we can simply say, “Straight Ahead.”

Or maybe the sign could’ve stopped at, “Make A U-turn.” Looking at where Baguio is today, that makes sense.

Thursday, March 13, 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.