CEBU, Philippines – For Cebuanos, 2023 started with a bang: the return of the Sinulog, the most highly celebrated event in Central Visayas’ main island.
For two years, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced devotees of the Señor Sto. Niño to keep indoors, attending the Novena Masses via their television sets, computers, and mobile phones. The streets of Cebu were absent of the processions, street parades, and the dancing and singing crowds emblematic of the Sinulog.
On Sinulog day, January 15, Rappler talked to some of the faces in Cebu City’s streets.
Van Clinton Pilla crossed the sea to offer a performance to the Sto. Niño. He is part of the eleven-person creative team of Omega de Salonera of Surigao del Norte.
Rappler talked with him before the Grand Ritual Showdown, and before the awarding ceremony where his team — all first-timers to Sinulog were declared winners in the Grand Ritual Showdown -Free Interpretation.
“Ang among giari is to showcase our culture in Bucas Grande island. This is called the “Hinabangay.” So kung baga, helping together,” he told Rappler.
(We came here to showcase our culture in Bucas Grande island. This is called “Hinabangay.” This means helping each other.)
Hinabangay is a month-long festival celebrated in Bucas Grande Island in honor of Señor San Nicolas de Tolentino. During the month-long celebration, members of the community offer their labor for free in the spirit of helping or “tinabangay.”
In line with their wish to showcase this culture of offering and giving, the team behind Omega de Salonera’s performance offered their services for free.
“Tanan trabahante namo, from props making, pintor, wa nay bayad tanan. Sama sa kanta, ‘ihalad ang kinabuhi aron malipay ang Ginoo’. Which is literal gyud nga nahitabo sa amoa,” he said.
(Every single one of the people behind this team, from props-making, to painters, offered their services for free. It’s like how the song goes, ‘offer your life to make God happy’. Which is literally what happened to us.)
Despite the difficulty of traveling to Cebu, Pilla said the team was grateful and eager. Asked about the controversial venue of Sinulog 2023, he said they are used to rain and mud. They had been practicing tirelessly since November of 2022, he added.
“Even though the SRP location, naa’y issue na maot kaayo, lapok kaayo, for us… grabe nindot kaayo ang venue para sa amoa. We really think that it is made for us because perfect kaayo iyang sizing and space… so para namo, perfect timing ang pag intra namo sa Sinulog,” he said.
(Even though the SRP location has been marred with issues that it’s bad or muddy, for us… it’s great. We really think that it is made for us because the sizing and the space is perfect. For us it’s really perfect timing that we entered Sinulog.)
And he was not wrong. Apart from winning the coveted Ritual Showdown (Free Interpretation Category), they were also declared Best in Street Dancing, Best in Costume, and placed second for Musicality.
Jesson Morata is an external assistant manager for marketing in a business process outsourcing (BPO) company in Cebu.
Despite the heat of the sun and the slow pace of the parade, Morata and his co-workers tirelessly danced beside their company’s float, taking pictures with the crowd of spectators, and keeping the energy high. This, he said, was their company’s seventh year of joining the Sinulog Grand parade.
“This is our 7th time to join Sinulog and this is for the books so to speak because we’re used to the old route and medyo comfortable na and this is the first time,” he said, referring to the new venue.
“There were so many challenges a few days before but now we are… but so far so good,” he added.
The BPO industry is a large contributor to the city’s economy and one of its biggest job generators. Morata’s company employs 8,000 workers.
To be able to achieve such a wide workforce, the BPO industry needs to be inclusive, Morata
“Regardless of your age, race, and sexual orientation, beliefs, we welcome everyone with open arms. The BPO industry is one of the most vibrant and most promising. We all know that all industries are affected with what happened by COVID and Odette but here we are, still providing opportunities for everyone,” he told Rappler.
Jin-jin Ouano is from the City of Mandaue, a local government unit neighboring Cebu City.
Under the heat of the noon sun, she sat by the sidewalk, a couple of blocks from the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño De Cebu. She formed part of the sea of devotees entering and leaving the packed Basilica, praying to the Sto. Niño before they carry on with the revelry.
“Mawala imong kapoy magbaktas kay mahingag ka sa uban. Katong pag-pandemic kay live ra man to. Sa TV screen ra magtan-aw,” she said.
(Your exhaustion from walking would go away because of all the people surrounding you. In the pandemic we only watched the celebration live from our TVs.)
“Sukad sa pandemic, karon ra ko kabalik. Kay katong wala pa’y pandemic, sige mi’g laag sa Sinulog. Sa plaza ra mi,” she added.
(This is my first time back since the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we used to be out during Sinulog. We used to stay at the plaza.)
She says her family opted out of their traditional watching the Sinulog Grand Parade due to distance of the new venue. But she joins the rest of the devotees in praying for the continuation of the yearly Sinulog celebration.
“Unta hatagan mi og maayong panlawas unya mapadayon ni hangtod sa hangtod nga walay kakulian. Padayon ang pagpangaliya sa mga katawhan. Ana ra. Mao ra ug grasya adlaw-adlaw,” she told Rappler
(I pray for good health and that thus continues forever without interruption. For the continued intercession of everyone. That’s all. As well as that we be blessed with graces every day.)