Sampaguita (Jasminum sambac) is the national flower of the Philippines. The white, fragrant flower blooms from hardy shrubs and has become the symbol for the pure and strong character of Filipinos. It is also one of the three national flowers of Indonesia where it is known by its local name, melati putih.
I first heard about the Sampaguita Festival last year, but then it was too late to drive to San Pedro, Laguna where the annual event is celebrated to help revive the sampaguita industry in the locality. San Pedro, a first-class municipality in Laguna, takes pride in being the sampaguita capital of the Philippines. It was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for laying the longest sampaguita lei, from Biñan to San Pedro or a distance of 3.6 km. I felt it was worth traveling about 30 kilometers from Manila to San Pedro to be surrounded by the fragrance of this flower and to enjoy other activities during the festival, so I made a mental note not to miss this year’s event.
Sampaguita Festival 2012 started last Tuesday, February 10 with the Pre-Festival Translacion of the Chair of St. Peter, the town’s patron saint. The next two weeks were filled with various cultural, civic and sports activities not only for the young and once-young San Pedronians but also for the visiting public.
We were there on the 21stfor the Grand Parade and the Street Dancing Competition scheduled at 2 pm. As we arrived a couple of hours early, we decided to visit nearby San Vicente, where many garland makers go about their trade the whole year round.
Then we were off to barangay Nueva, the bagsakan or drop-off point for loose flowers used to make garlands. Apparently, the urban sprawl has taken its toll on sampaguita farming in San Pedro because flowers are now being sourced also from Pampanga, Quezon and Batangas.
We were able to squeeze in a quick visit to the new municipal hall, where works of San Pedro artists were on display in a group show called Susi at Agnos.
When we got back to the town plaza, it was just minutes before the start of the grand parade and street dancing competition. Before we left Manila, I wished for good weather, fearing that unpredictable rains might spoil the day. It didn’t rain alright, but I was nowhere prepared for the extreme opposite, either. At a little past 2 pm, it was getting so hot and the parade was just starting to come in. By the time the street dancers were making their entrance into the town plaza, they were showing the effects of the oppressive heat. Some of the participants who were wearing body paint were all sweaty and were starting to ‘reveal their true colors.’
Even as I was wowed by their colorful get-ups, I was feeling sorry for the dancers who must be feeling uncomfortable in those dark, close-fitting costumes. Halfway through the second number in the dance competition, I found it impossible to take pictures with the sun directly above us. It was unbelievably hot! Many barefoot dancers were wincing as they tried to keep their feet on the ground. I knew right then that we shouldn’t push our luck and that it was time to leave.
In the aircon bus going home, I had nothing but deep admiration for those dancers who had to bear the punishing heat and see the competition through. I didn’t see enough, but in my mind, everyone there was a winner.