Senate candidates met by bottled-up fury at Panagbenga Festival
BAGUIO CITY — Three senatorial candidates expected everything to come up roses when they joined the Panagbenga Flower Festival on Saturday despite the campaign ban imposed by the organizers.
But instead of cheers, the candidates got a frosty reception from the crowd, with a water bottle sailing through the air and barely missing former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. as he walked past Igorot Park.
Aside from Revilla — who was recently acquitted of plunder charges arising from the pork barrel scam — former actor and Sen. Lito Lapid, and outgoing Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, joined the festivities at the invitation of a city councilor.
Revilla appeared unfazed by the near-hit and moved toward the crowd to shake hands, another act prohibited in the “policy on political participation” set by the organizer of the 24-year annual celebration, the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. (BFFFI).
The rules against political campaigning were tightened after Marcos and her brother, former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., disrupted last year’s parade by engaging the crowd.
BFFFI had stressed that today’s street dancing and grand float parades were “nonpolitical events and only competitors, official entries, contingents and participants were allowed to join.”
But the guidelines did not prevent candidates from campaigning around the city because they had been granted that privilege in the campaign period, according to lawyer and Baguio election officer John Paul Martin.
The campaign period for national candidates is from Feb. 12 to May 11, while local candidates may start campaigning on March 29.
On Saturday, most of the Panagbenga dancers seemed oblivious to the candidates’ presence and focused on giving their best performance in their flower-themed costumes.
Wrapped in pink and purple flower petals, high school band members performed a K-Pop number, while another group used papier-mache spears and shields in their Igorot war dance. Sunflowers were a recurring theme in the performers’ costumes, as were daisies and roses.
Dance contingents came from all over Northern and Central Luzon, from Tabuk City in Kalinga and Burgos town in La Union, to Calasiao town in Pangasinan. —With reports from Valerie Damian, Kimberlie Quitasol and Vincent Cabreza
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