BFFFI, Council reach truce

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Thursday, January 30, 2014


MAYOR Mauricio Domogan brokered a truce between the squabbling Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFFI) executive committee and several members of the City Council in time for the opening of the Panagbenga Festival tomorrow.

In a closed door meeting Tuesday attended by BFFFI executive committee, led by Chairman Anthony De Leon and co-chairman Freddie Alquiros, the City Council members agreed to amend the Trade Fair Ordinance which prohibits the conduct of the Session Road in Bloom and the Market Encounter.

The meeting between both parties also resulted to the city government allowing the Market Encounter activities at the Lake Drive.

Councilors promised to conduct a special session on Thursday to finalize the required confirmation of activities of the Panagbenga Festival.

The city mayor earlier stressed the success of the festival is a result of the cooperation between the private and public sector. He said the Panagbenga Festival is not just for the people of Baguio but for millions of spectators who would want to witness and enjoy the annual flower spectacle.

Several issues were raised Monday by Committee on Tourism, Parks and Playgrounds chairman Councilor Elmer Datuin denying there was a delay in the approval of activities of the BFFFI explaining his office only received the transmittal of the request on January 14.

Datuin said he immediately sought approval of the request from committee members for inclusion in the agenda but was not discussed due to the prevailing discussion on the budget.

The councilor also sought answers from the BFFFI as to why the City Council was not given an audited financial statement of the Panagbenga 2012 expenses and even Mayor Domogan who signed Resolution 80 last March 3, 2013 requiring the BFFFI to submit a detailed statement of income and expenses and audited financial statement submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The City Council resolution specifically required the BFFFI to present with transparency and accountability to submit a detailed income listing of the proceeds of the income of the Market Encounter, Session Road in Bloom, Athletic Bowl stall rentals, sponsorship revenues, donations and other expenses of the Panagbenga 2012,” he stressed.

But he said the BFFFI has not responded to the request of the City Council after the organization only submitted an audited financial breakdown of expenses of the city government of the P4 million.

“We at the City Council have the oversight function on the utilization of funds,” he added.

Without the audited financial statement, the councilor added, the city government cannot fully determine if the subsidy which comes from the budget of the City Administrator’s Office is enough or more than what the festival needs.

The Councilor also stressed the conduct of the Session Road in Bloom and Market Encounter also violate the Trade Fair Ordinance as he questioned the operation of the Market Encounter by the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Foundation (CHEF Inc.), a foundation attached to the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Baguio.

“Who gave them the authority to collect money from applicants amounting P97,000 per stall? Who gave them the permission? What are the conditions? Where is their contract?” he said.

He also said the BFFI does not have records at the SEC of the operations of Market Encounter and Session Road in Bloom.

But the BFFFI was quick in answering every query of the Councilor with foundation’s lawyer Rene Rondez explaining the request for the approval of the Panagbenga activities was submitted as early as December 16.

“We already submitted the audited financial statements to the Office of the City Vice Mayor while the Panagbenga 2013 operations was already submitted last Friday,” he stressed.

De Leon further explained further the foundation has already submitted an audited financial statement prepared by an independent external auditor.

He added the BFFFI also source out the running of the festival from sponsorships and from the operations of the Session Road in Bloom and Market Encounter to finance and sustain other non-generating expenses and activities including Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, Handog ng Panagbenga sa Pamilya Baguio as well as the subsidy of landscapers participating yearly.

“The life and blood of the BFFFI are the sponsorships and the Session Road in Bloom and Market Encounter,” he stressed.

De Leon added they have also reduced several trade fairs organized in past Panagbenga Festival to only two. The Session Road in Bloom has improved over the years, he said, adding the foundation is confident improvements will also be seen in the Market Encounter which they plan to hold along Lake Drive.

Alquiros, meanwhile, emphasized when they were granted the management of the festival they do not handle the subsidy from the local government but only recommend and coordinate with the city the activities that should be given funding such as prizes of various competitions.

“We in the foundation, we don’t have a staff we always farm out the running of the events to entities that we trust,” he said.
He also stressed they cannot submit financial statements of the Session Road in Bloom as it is managed by the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio.

This as he explained the Market Encounter was handled previously by lawyer Damaso Bangaoet whom they cannot compel to submit financial statements as long as funds promised to the foundation are remitted.

He further explained earnings and expenses of the foundation are fully itemized in the audited financial statement.

“There is nothing hidden as far as the foundation is concerned. We have been appointed by the city to run the Panagbenga. I believe at this point there is mistrust with regards to the way the foundation runs the event,” he said challenging the City Council that “if there are doubts, [we] are willing to step down.”

However, in a special session of the City Council last Thursday, the body approved the holding of the Market encounter at Lake Drive with the legislative intention to amend the Trade Fair Ordinance.

The Council also approved the P4 million Panagbenga subsidy allotted from the budget of the City Administrator's Office agreeing on the caucus last Tuesday to allow the BFFFI to run affairs of the flower festival attracting millions of tourists yearly.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 31, 2014.

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