Issue of February 11, 2018

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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Intrigues trigger discord among Panagbenga execs
by Rimaliza A. Opiña

A government-led Panagbenga Festival has not insulated the event from issues of some people supposedly making money out of sponsorships and from the lease of stalls at the commercial features of the event.

With politicians dipping their fingers into running the event, rumors have spread that some officials have asked “special favors” from the manager of Baguio Blooms – a month-long trade exhibit at Burnham Park, as well as in the Session Road in Bloom. At the Baguio Blooms, some dignitaries allegedly asked from operator Maribel Chagwaten free stalls, goodwill money, and permitted the addition of more stalls and other amenities such as rides and games.

City Vice Mayor Edison Bilog said this is a violation of the guidelines on the operation of the Baguio Blooms. The city council said Chagwaten was only permitted to operate 225 stalls and the operation of a carousel and slide was not given prior approval.

Councilor Joel Alangsab said records would show that the imprimatur apparently came from Councilor Elmer Datuin, Panagbenga executive committee chair.

City Treasurer Alex Cabarrubias confirmed there are 23 “excess” stalls at the Baguio Blooms. He said records of the CTO showed that the operator only paid P225,000 in special permit fees, representing the 225 stalls. 

The city council, in their special session last Thursday, passed a resolution asking the CTO to remove the excess stalls as well as the rides installed at the entertainment area of the Baguio Blooms.

Cabarrubias told the Courier he would refer the issue to BFFFI Board of Trustees Chair and Mayor Mauricio Domogan, saying has to be clarified about the supposed limit in the number of stalls for the guidelines only specified the area where Baguio Blooms will operate, not the number of stalls.

Officials of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio, long-time organizer of the Panagbenga, broke its silence about how the Panagbenga is being operated now.

HRAB president and BFFFI Board of Trustees member Anthony de Leon said the HRAB and the BFFFI is unfairly being used as front in the management of Panagbenga, when as a matter of fact, they have chosen to stay on the sidelines and allow the city government to manage the event.

“We are being pushed against the wall. I have to speak up. Kung anu-ano ang sinasabi sa media pero BFFFI ang nasisisi sa mga isyung wala naman kaming kinalaman,” de Leon said, referring to the supposed approval of the HRAB or the BFFFI of how the Baguio Blooms is being managed.

De Leon said before the government decided to bid out the Baguio Blooms and Session Road in Bloom (SRB), his group warned the mayor about the implications of bidding them out.

He said the BFFFI would have less control in regulating their operation for they would have to allow the winning bidder take command in running the event and deviate from the standards that the HRAB have long been implementing.

Further, the mayor and the bids and awards committee were  discouraged from assigning the P8.5 million bid price saying previous experience would show that the Baguio Blooms (previously Market Encounter) only earns an average of P4M to P5M.  To recoup expenses, the bidder would have to increase the number of stalls or increase the rent.

Last year, the rent for stalls at Baguio Blooms was P60,000. This year, stalls are rented out at an average of P80,000 to P100,000.

De Leon said none of these suggestions were considered and the city government proceeded with the bidding. As a sign of protest, he resigned as a trustee in January but reconsidered when Domogan interceded and assured that the HRAB would continue to manage the SRB.

A few weeks later, officials of the HRAB were told that only a portion of Session Road will be assigned their group while the other areas will be managed by the Philippine Councilors League-Baguio Chapter and the Liga ng mga Barangay.

De Leon said on several instances, his group, including concurrent exe-com co-chair Freddie Alquiros, wanted to back out and give the full rein to city officials but decided not to for it would make them look unprofessional. “We kept silent. Ayoko sana na pera ang maging ugat ng away dito pero ang alam ng publiko BFFFI at HRAB ang may kagagawan.”

De Leon also said the city government is imposing a double standard when they used as basis a Commission on Audit report that merely said that the BFFFI and the city government sign a memorandum of understanding to validate the city government’s giving of a subsidy to the group.

He said the group has long been waiting for the city to draft an MOU so their group can review and if they find the terms mutually acceptable, would sign the same but until today, none was ever presented. Instead, the city council submitted a proposed resolution stating that from 2018 and every year thereafter, the Panagbenga will be bid out to an events manager.

Previously, the BFFFI authorized the HRAB to collect, aside from the lease of booths, special permit fees then remit these to the city government.

The P4M subsidy on the other hand, is used for the prizes of contingents in the streetdancing and float parades, media contest, and assistance for schools that participate in major events of the Panagbenga.

He said that contrary to public belief, the subsidy is disbursed by the City Accounting Office, not the HRAB or the BFFFI.

De Leon also reiterated that BFFFI periodically submits an audited financial statement but lamented that for several years was made to look like the group was pocketing income from the festival. 

“Walang problema sa amin na hindi one-stop ang pagbabayad pero ‘yung ginagawa namin noon to facilitate ang pagbabayad pinayagan din naman nila na gawin ng present operator,” de Leon said, adding the group has chosen not to participate in the monitoring committee created by Mayor Mauricio Domogan to ensure compliance with the guidelines because they were never in favor of bidding the event. “It was the city that instigated it. They should monitor compliance. We do not want anything to do with it.”

He said the transparency that the city government has long clamored about is not happening at present.

“If they are so concerned about transparency, they would have focused on the highlights of Panagbenga but their focus is only on the trade fairs,” added media liaison officer Andrew Pinero. 

In his weekly press conference last Wednesday, Domogan said the Baguio Blooms organizer has complied with the guidelines of the BFFFI and even initiated the cancellation of the lease contract of stall holders who subleased their slots. He said operators of the Baguio Blooms and SRB were required to submit a detailed accounting immediately after the event.

He said people who claim of money changing hands should identify city officials who are involved so as not to make all of them a suspect.

Domogan assured that the BFFFI and city, as partners, will continue to monitor compliance of operators of the Baguio Blooms and SRB, while the execom will periodically report developments regarding sponsorships and other details in the upcoming street dancing and float parades.

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