After quake, Yolanda, ‘thankful’ Cebu celebrates Sinulog

After a tumultuous year of disasters – both natural and man-made – Cebuanos look forward to celebrating during this year's Sinulog festivities

PIT SENYOR. Mass goers attend the first day of the Novena mass for the feast of the Senyor Santo Nino in the Basilica del Santo Niño, which was damaged during the Visayas earthquake. Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

CEBU CITY, Philippines – It’s going to be a long week for Evangeline Cabatuan. It’s January 9, Thursday, the day Novena masses begin in honor of the Santo Nino or the child Jesus.

Cabatuan has been selling candles and religious items outside the Basilica del Santo Niño in this city for over two decades now. Experience has taught her to make the most of this peak season, when hundreds of Santo Nino statues need to be repaired in time for the numerous processions in the city, novena guides need to be sold, and candles lit.

New statues sell for as low as P150 to as high as P2,000 outside the church. Cabatuan says the prices will go higher as the Sinulog celebration comes closer.

She says it’s one of the many ways the child Jesus continue to bless Cebuanos, despite the number of calamities that hit the country, particularly the Visayas, this year.

In October 2013, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Central Visayas. Barely a month later, Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Visayas and parts of Luzon. The string of natural calamities is something Cebu, for the most part, was spared from. Two major fires also hit the city last year, affecting over 2,000 families.

It’s not something to be particularly proud of, but it’s what Cebuanos are thankful for, said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama. January 9 marked the beginning of a nearly month-long celebration in honor of the Santo Nino or the child Jesus.

Not quite the same

PREPARATIONS. Vendors outside the Basilica del Santo Niño look forward to a busy week thanks for the feast of the child Jesus. Photo by Rappler

Sinulog, the street dance spectacle, will not be quite the same this year. Last year’s champion in the free interpretation category of the grand parade have become victims of Yolanda – Tribu Lingganay of Alang-Alang, Leyte.

Other Leyte towns – Abuyog, Dulag, and Tanauan – won’t be joining the grand parade this year to focus on rehabilitation efforts, according to the Inquirer

Rama says some groups will still be coming over to watch the parade, but not join as participants.

For devotees of the Santo Niño, it’s a way of giving thanks for the year that’s been – tragedies included. The Basilica del Santo Niño, which was damaged during the quake, is bustling with activity a week before the Sinulog “Mardi Gras” Grand Parade scheduled for January 19.

“I call this a different Sinulog,” said the mayor, who’s been involved in planning the Sinulog since taking office. “The voice [of Sinulog] is the voice of thanksgiving, enhancing our faith.”

Traditionally a week-long event marked by 9 days of Novena masses, Sinulog today is a mix of religion and revelry. “It was increasing in its patronage. In later part, there was some discomfort with the revelries – the painting, the dancing, people not being able to control their intoxication,” said Rama.

The tendency then, he said, was for people to instead flock to malls instead of joining Sinulog activities. Instead of being solely a parade, the Sinulog now takes the form of a “carousel.” Activities are lined up daily, aside from the religious activities in the city.

“It’s a combination, but it’s primarily religious,” added Rama. “When I came in, people were complaining that it had become the ‘Sinulog of the rich.’ We just have to be mindful that…everybody has to be happy,” he added.

'VOICE OF THANKSGIVING.' Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama says Cebuanos have a lot to be thankful for during this year's Sinulog festivities. Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

Politics and festivities

Last year’s Sinulog also came in the middle of a political battle between then Governor Gwen Garcia and the national govnernment. Garcia refused to leave the Provincial Capitol after she was suspended by the Palace, but left to keep her promise of dancing during the Sinulog.

Garcia was allowed to return to the capitol after the Sinulog, but was eventually barred from returning after she left to visit town in the southern part of the province.

The Liberal Party’s Hilario Davide III, an ally of the President, is now governor of Cebu after defeating Gwen Garcia’s brother PJ Garcia. The former governor is now the congresswoman of the 3rd district of Cebu.

President Benigno Aquino III last year hinted that he wasn’t invited to the Sinulog grand parade. Instead, he visited Zamboanga City. Rama says the President has yet to confirm if he’ll be attending the 2014 Sinulog.

The feast of the Black Nazarene, celebrated in Manila earlier this week, drew millions. Eager devotees breached security barriers to take the image of the Black Nazarene even before the mass celebrated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle ended. Will it be as rowdy during the Sinulog in Cebu?

Cabatuan says she doesn’t think so – Cebuanos are more mild-mannered and follow instructions better. Besides, despite everything that’s happened, life in Cebu is already back to its normal groove, Sinulog festivities included. –

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